There is a gaze I associate with Nairobi. It scans you from shoes to haircut, evaluates whether you are worth knowing, based not on labels, but on those other markers. The plumpness of your cheeks, the shape of your hair, the expression on your face, the ease of your walk. Often, I have walked past people who peer as though they should know me. Often, I have walked past people who peer through as though they would never dare know me.
Once, I experimented with meeting the gazes that met me, and then I got exhausted. So many gazes. So many questions. So much wanting. Do you know me. Do I know you. Do we want to know each other. These are not ways to be social, you understand. They are ways to manage the small spaces in which we find ourselves.
There is threat assessment. The plumpness of your cheeks, the shape of your hair, the expression on your face, the ease of your walk. You enters a space that threatens gender. And will you be kind today. And how will you meet the gaze that asks for kindness.
A request created a trip. A trip became an encounter. An encounter became a browsing. And others followed. The story goes that conservatives were upset by the erotica holdings, so they started defacing them. They were locked away in a room that I learned how to frequent. Locked away to rescue those who cannot live with their bodies.