I suppose we should have suspected that something was amiss the moment he approached us. We had just booked our rooms at Naromoru River Lodge – our first stop-over in a long road trip from Nairobi to Marsabit. There were three of us, all taking a much needed break from the busy Nairobi life. The moment we started asking around for a photographer, he simply appeared, carrying his Nikon.
He introduced himself as Ricky Muya. Said that he would gladly offer us his services during our stay in that Lodge. He seemed solid and experienced, so we accepted his services.
Our stay in Naromoru River Lodge lasted three days, during which we explored the neighborhood, and even attempted hiking to the lowest camp on the Mt. Kenya trail. On the first day, Muya accompanied us everywhere, cheerfully snapping away. In the evening, at around six, we let him retire, and he promised to come back the following day with the processed photos. So we spent the rest of the evening and the night without him.
The following morning, at exactly eight, Muya came back, and handed us the bunch of photos from the previous day. He told us they were 80 photos in total. We offered to pay him right then, but he declined, saying that we would pay him the total amount at the end of the third day. So he accompanied us the whole of the second day, once again taking more photos. He seemed to be genuinely passionate about his craft, and would regularly suggest strategic places for us to pose for the photos. Eventually, evening came by, and once again, he promised to bring the processed photos of the day the following day.
On the third day, Muya never showed up. We waited for him up to 11 in the morning, before we started asking around about his whereabouts. The first person we approached was the hotel’s receptionist. And a most surreal conversation took place:
Us: “Say, do you know how we can locate a certain Ricky Muya? He is a photographer.”
Receptionist: “Are you relatives?”
Us: “No, we are his customers. He was supposed to accompany us today, but didn’t show up.”
Receptionist: “Oh. I’m sorry, but Mr. Muya passed away two weeks ago. We’ve been trying to locate his relatives for a while now. His body is still in the town mortuary.”
At this, we stood in stunned silence, looked at each other, and then walked out of the receptionist’s office. Certainly, the receptionist must have been mistaken. Or maybe there were two Ricky Muyas in the area. We dismissed the entire episode, and went about the day’s activities, hoping that our photographer would still show up. But by the evening, he still hadn’t.
That last night in that Lodge, we decided to finally go through the photos that Muya had taken on the first day. They were all high quality photos: good lighting, perfect angles and timing. Muya hadn’t been kidding about his experience. Every single photo was professionally done. But as we went through the pile, three photos suddenly gave us deep chills.
The three photos were simply impossible.
And yet, they were right there, in front of our eyes.
In one photo, we were taking a drink in one of the lodge’s terraces, by a certain artificial river. We were sure that on that evening, we had been alone there. Muya had already retired for the night. And yet, that photo was taken from within three meters of us. And in another photo, we were walking on one of the footpaths towards the cottages. The photo had been taken from in front of us, at a distance of about five meters. Once again, the three of us could remember, very clearly, that no one had been in front of us that evening, on that footpath.
The last photo was the most chilling. It had apparently been taken from within our particular cottage, just before we went to bed. We were sitting around the round table in there, taking a last drink before going to sleep. And as we all could clearly remember, we had been completely alone that first night, and had locked the cottage’s door. And yet, from less than two meters away, apparently standing by the door, Muya had managed to take a photo of our smiling faces. At 10 in the night. When he had clearly retired at six in the evening.
That third night, none of us slept a wink. And the following morning, we all got all our stuff back into the car, and turned back towards Nairobi. The road trip couldn’t continue. Not with the one very open question hanging over all of us:
Who – or, more likely, what – had accompanied us for two days, and taken all those photos of us?