The station platform is thronged with a heterogeneous multitude of people. The hands of a dozen raggetty black boys are stretched out for luggage. The newcomer sees with delight a savage with a tin can in his stretched ear lobe; another with a set of wooden skewers set fanwise around the edge of the ear; he catches a glimpse of a beautiful naked creature very proud, very decorated with beads and heavy polished wire. Then he is ravished away by the friend, or agent, or hotel representative who has met him, and hurried out through the gates between the impassive and dignified Sikh sentries to the cab. I believe nobody but the newcomer ever rides in the cab; and then but once, from the station to the hotel. After that he uses rickshaws. In fact it is probable that the cab is maintained for the sole purpose of giving the newcomer a grand and impressive entrance. This brief fleeting quarter hour of glory is unique and passes. It is like crossing the Line, or the first kiss, something that in its nature cannot be repeated.
The cab was once a noble vehicle, compounded of opulent curves, with a very high driver’s box in front, a little let-down bench, and a deep, luxurious, shell-shaped back seat, reclining in which one received the adulation of the populace. That was in its youth. Now in its age the varnish is gone; the upholstery of the back seat frayed; the upholstery of the small seat lacking utterly, so that one sits on bare boards. In place of two dignifiedly spirited fat white horses, it is drawn by two very small mules in a semi-detached position far ahead. And how it rattles!
Between the station and the hotel at Nairobi is a long straight wide well-made street, nearly a mile long, and bordered by a double row of young eucalyptus. These latter have changed the main street of Nairobi from the sunbaked array of galvanized houses described by travellers of a half dozen years back to a thoroughfare of great charm. The iron houses and stores are now in a shaded background; and the attention is freed to concentrate on the vivid colouring, the incessant movement, the great interest of the people moving to and fro. When I left Nairobi the authorities were considering the removal of these trees, because one row of them had been planted slightly within the legal limits of the street. What they could interfere with in a practically horseless town I cannot imagine, but I trust this stupidity gave way to second thought.
The cab rattles and careers up the length of the street, scattering rickshaws and pedestrians from before its triumphant path. To the left opens a wide street of little booths under iron awnings, hung with gay colour and glittering things. The street is thronged from side to side with natives of all sorts. It whirls past, and shortly after the cab dashes inside a fence and draws up before the low stone-built, wide-verandahed hotel.