On the morning of Dec. 11, 2007, Anthony Adero decided to leave his hometown forever and head to the capital, because he wanted to kiss a man for the first time in his life. He packed the few essentials needed for his five-hour trip, little things that carry weight, like family photographs and a prerecorded cellphone message from his baby sister; he felt soothed whenever he heard her giggles. What he could not stuff into his suitcase he packed in his heart. Then he took two reassuring breaths for courage, allowed himself a measured silence, and then headed straight for the central bus station in Kisumu for his final goodbyes. His grandmother cried. The men cried, too, but rural machismo forbids public displays of emotion among men, so they turned their backs to hide their shame. His older brother was envious, while his baby sister was proud. Anthony was hopeful, but everyone else held serious doubts. Kiss, hug… those final moments were so tense that he forgot his ticket before boarding.
One covers 164.85 miles, or 265.3 kilometers, between Kisumu and Nairobi, which would require five hours and three minutes on the well-lit, pothole-free, butter-smooth road that exists in every African’s dreams for his or her country’s future. In reality (wherever reality is), his trip took longer, but linear time, like history, is the Western world’s delusion, and no African on that bus cared how long it took to get to Nairobi as long as they were safe with their possessions intact by journey’s end. With both hands pressed against the window to frame his world, everything familiar got swallowed as the bus inched toward its final destination, which, according to Anthony, wasn’t so much a fixed spot or place but the sweet promise of self-actualization that would come with the freedom to explore his sexuality. Whatever didn’t slip past his eyes as he looked out the bus window burned deep in his mind as painful memories: the semester when six boys were expelled for wearing earrings; the boys beaten to a pulp by their fathers who had sacrificed nearly everything to educate them, counting on their sons for support should they take sick, grow old or become too weak to provide; blood spilling from one boy as he fell to the ground, kneeling as his father pounded him, front teeth knocked clear out of his swollen mouth; searching the dictionary for "homosexuality" to find no word in Kiswahili, though the slang for "faggot," "cunt" and "bitch boy" lives in multiple incarnations at the tip of every Kenyan’s tongue; televised broadcasts of presidential speeches outlawing gay love; sermons preaching eternal hellfire, demonic possession, perversity; finally telling his girlfriend, "No, sweetheart, I cannot marry you, because I’m gay," then banking on God’s protection, not hellfire, to pave the way for a planned escape.
As the bus pulled into the depot, Anthony decided that a celebratory drink should precede a phone call home telling his family that he’d arrived safely. The rumored hotspot for gay-positive clubbing was Steps on Tom Mboya Street, where men who have sex with men (MSM) mingled with marginalized folks who could party: tourists, prostitutes and the high-ranking African diplomats who preferred local whores to their well-educated African wives.
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