The Norfolk is a famous hostelry from the colonial days, just across the road from what is now the University of Nairobi. Wild tales hold that colonials used to ride their horses onto the bar terrace and even into the dining room.
But when I was at the Daily Nation, the clientele was generally young professionals, maybe some students and professors, and the predictable clusters of tourists. That particular night we were drinking and munching the hamburgers that were necessary to lure tourists. We were a mixed group of riff-raff: some African students, playing at doing homework, two of us from the Nation, and a couple of Brits, born in Kenya, one bearded, the clean-shaven one with an African girlfriend.
Out of nowhere a slim young woman in a tee shirt and shorts, backpack and hiking boots, entered the terrace from the road. She stood looking around. Her black hair was cut short and she wore no make-up, not even lipstick. She glanced around the terrace, swung the pack off her back, and grabbing it walked over to us. “Mind if I join you?” she asked. “You’re the only crowd out here who looks as disreputable as I do.”
“What do you say, chaps?” asked the bearded Brit. “Do we really look as disreputable as all that?” But he quickly stood—as did I and the other Kenya-born Brit—because of course we wanted this plainly beautiful woman to glorify our table. We opened up space and reached for chairs. Since I was closest to her, I took the backpack, grabbed her wrist, and ushered her into a chair beside me.
“Glad to have you join us,” I told her. “I’m Tom.”
She said, “You’re an American. I can hear it in your voice.”
“I am,” I said. “But I’ve been here long enough to feel Kenyan.”
She put her hand on my arm and smiled and leaned forward to kiss my cheek. The others applauded. “Kiss us all, lassie!” cried the bearded Brit.
“She only kisses fellow-countrymen,” I shouted as we sat down. I signaled a waiter and ordered a beer and a burger for her.
She leaned close to me. “I’ve been in West Africa, speaking French,” she told me. “I haven’t heard American English in I-don’t-know-how-long.” She reached out her hand and we shook. “I’m Jocelyn,” she said. “Joss.”
I assumed she was a student. Possibly an anthropology grad student as I had been not long before. I felt a kinship with her. We stayed with the others for a couple of hours, talking and drinking. When the circle broke up, it was after midnight. As we left the terrace, the pack on her back again, she asked me, “Do you know a cheap place where I could stay? I can’t afford the tab here.”
I was surprised. “You have no place to stay?” I asked.
She shook her head and grinned. And I grinned back at her.
In those days my lodgings were a single room at the back of an Asian store in Bazaar Street. I entered from the rear. The room had a washbasin in one corner and a small refrigerator in another. My clothes hung on nails and hangers beneath a shelf where I’d stacked underwear and books. The double bed was unmade and, as I brought Joss into the room and looked at it, I wondered how long it had been since I’d washed the sheets.
I’d gotten a straight-back chair—a towel was hanging over it to dry—and a cheap but sturdy wooden table I used as a desk. On it were a lamp and piles of reference books and newspapers next to my two most valuable possessions: my Olivetti portable typewriter and Grundig short-wave radio. Stacks of books stood like mini-Stonehenges on the floor throughout the room. The door was ajar to a small compartment attached to the room. It was almost large enough—but not quite—to house the toilet and the telephone-shower that were in it. There was a drain in the floor and I sometimes showered standing on the toilet. I always left the door open, hoping to dry the place out.
“Will I knock over books if I set this down?” Joss asked.
I took the backpack from her and set it on the chair. “Now you know what the room of a freelance journalist looks like.”
“I’ve always wondered,” she said.
“You’re welcome to stay.”
She looked at me gratefully. It was a kind of magical moment that went on and on without really taking any time at all. Then she kissed me, very fully. “Do you mind if I take a shower?” she asked.
“I may even have a second towel,” I said, pulling a dry towel from the shelf next to the underwear. Giving it to her, I took hold of her hand. I wanted to kiss her again. “I won’t be long,” she promised.
While she showered, I turned off the overhead light and got into bed, wondering what would happen. The lamp on the table was the only illumination. When she left the shower, she came into the room to dry off. I pretended to be asleep—she must have known I wasn’t—and narrowly opened my eyes to watch her polish her body. After a moment I sat up. “You’re incredibly beautiful,” I said. I watched her buff herself dry. She smiled at me, without a trace of self-consciousness. Then she folded the towel over the chair, turned off the lamp, and came to bed. We kissed again and she asked, “Why are you wearing shorts?”
We were together for more than a month, making love with the frequency of honeymooners. I could not quite believe what was happening to me: that a woman of intelligence and loveliness would walk out of the night in a tie-dyed tee shirt, shorts and hiking boots and expand my existence, enhance my emotions, in a way I had never dreamed possible.
At the end of our time together we went camping on the Serengeti plains. That was like being Adam and Eve at the beginning of the world. Adam and Eve lived in the moment. They did not worry about the past or future and neither did we. I knew, of course, that Joss had a life−−probably a grad student’s life−−before she appeared on the Norfolk Hotel terrace that night. But I did not ask her about it. We lived with an immediacy that did not worry about tomorrow. I went to work during the days. I picked up free-lance stories when they floated by. At night I was with Joss. We did Nairobi and we made love. On the weekends we went camping.
When we camped, we slept on plains so abundant with wildlife that we had no fear of being attacked by predators. Who would want to eat us when a juicy little Thompson’s gazelle was so easy to catch? We slept, wound about each other, in the same sleeping bag. We woke at dawn to watch zebras and gnus, gazelles and waterbuck, topi and kudu, Cape buffalo, lions and elephants come to a water hole to drink. When they had drunk their fill, we would wriggle out of our bag and bathe in the cool morning air, as naked and as unconscious of our nakedness, as the animals themselves.
Eventually I got a request from a paper for which I served as a stringer. It asked me to provide dispatches from southern Africa. This was an opportunity I longed for. It might lead to a staff position and end my hand-to-mouth existence as a stringer. One night while we were camping on an enormous plain dotted with kopjes, rock hillocks, I told Joss about it. Our campfire was the only man-made illumination for hundreds of square miles. Having eaten, we sat close to one another, our backs against a log, sipping wine, watching the stars. I said, “One of my papers wants some coverage from South Africa. I have to go down there for a while next week.”
“What is it?” she asked. “An audition?”
“Maybe.” I held my breath, then plunged ahead. “Want to come along?” She looked at me as if I were joking. “Why not?” I said.
For what seemed forever she did not speak. Finally she said, “You should know: I’m married.”
The words stunned me. I did not move. I sipped my wine and finally said, “Come anyway. I’m not prejudiced against married women.”
In the silence that followed I could not believe what we were discussing. She was married? I had been making love daily to another man’s wife? I had been feeling my emotions expanding, growing toward a possible commitment . . . And she was married! Finally I looked over at her. Joss said nothing, staring sadly into her glass of wine.
Finally I asked, “Who is he?”
Joss shook her head.
“Does he know you’re here?”
More shaking of her head.
“Does he know you–?”
“He plays around,” she said. “He knows I hate it. That’s why he does it.” Then she added, “And I do it to him because he hates it.”
I nodded. But I had never heard of such a relationship.
“It’s strange,” she said. “We love each other too much to divorce. And hate each other too much to be happy.”
I felt like railing at her, giving her hellfire-and-damnation. But in Kenya such things were not done by the people I knew. In Nairobi no one ever took a high moral tone with a friend.
“We think a baby will make a difference,” Joss said. “So that’s the plan.”
I smiled at this and looked at her a long moment. I put my arm about her and kissed her sweetly as if kissing her goodbye. In the morning we drove back to Nairobi and I got her a room at the Norfolk.