The sun’s rays had just dipped beyond the Third Parklands corner where matatus practise turns without warning. A mug of hot herbal tea lay snug next to the handbrake. I drove cautiously to the ape’s abode worried that the drops of precious brew would lose their bearings any minute now. My race against the dashboard mounted LED minutes was proving futile with every Westlands junction negotiated.
I was on my way to the airport with 3 human packages to collect en route: Mehul ‘Gorilla’ Gohil, Kim Bhari and Githinji Hinga. In spite of the excruciatingly slow crawl through the two Westlands roundabouts from hell, we were still making good time when passenger number two had been safely transferred from dwelling to speed capsule. Then came the villains called Waiyaki Way and CBD.
At the scheduled time for our rendezvous at the airport with the Dutch magician who made it all happen, Nikolai van Beek, we were still in ‘tao’ stuck between two more roundabouts and many kilometres away from package number three’s pick-up point. We finally made it to the airport, a few minutes after the plane carrying GM Dimitri Reinderman landed. Luckily for us, six other flights had landed at about the same time, giving us enough time to put our publicity stunt into action before the Grand Master could walk into the arrivals area.
Kim’s demonstration board was quickly unrolled while Githinji and Mehul set up a position from one of Dimitri’s past games. I got the camera ready. Curious onlookers wondered what was going on. Some even laughed. It was working already.
After a few test shots had been taken with the demo-board-turned-arrival-placard in various places, Mehul took position on the black square diagonally opposite the arrival gates. Nikolai was on the white square bang opposite the gates. Githinji and Kim were positioned a few L-shaped leaps from the gates. I hid behind the glass partition like a queening pawn. The trap was set.
Minutes went by, as did a contingent of uniformed cabin crew in blue, yet there was no sign of our VIP guest from Holland.
Finally, I spotted two men that could be him. Both of them walked out of the gates at about the same time. The one in the red jacket was supposed to walk towards the chess board and maybe laugh a little. Instead, he spotted the rook and went straight for him. Nikolai’s positioning robbed me of my photo of the night. Our Grand Master had arrived.
After briefly exchanging pleasantries and posing for some photos with Dimitri, we decided to stop by Ole Sereni for a few drinks before taking him to his hotel where he would be staying.
The outdoor seating area of Ole Sereni’s café/bar has a breath-taking view of the national park that is worth braving the chilly night temperatures for. So we settled in our chairs and Mehul started his barrage of questions for the GM. I decided to take a few photos of our informal ‘drinks with the GM’ session and a few shots later I heard a splash and suddenly something felt very cold at the bottom of both my legs. I looked down and realised that what I had assumed to be a bed of stones I could walk over was actually a shallow pool of very still water. To my utter embarrassment, my shoes, socks and lower pant legs were now soaked completely and it was quite cold. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to ask the waitress for a towel. That she brought two table napkins instead is another story but what is important is that I survived the ordeal.
Soon, the incident was forgotten as Dimitri starting sharing his tales of meeting Kasparov, Karpov, Anand and the likes over the board. While Mehul was visibly overawed by the fact that he had played such super GMs, Dimitri himself was rather nonchalant about it. Like it was no big deal for him.
He seemed to be a quiet, more introverted person who liked minding his own business and had other interests apart from playing/studying chess. A simple man with simple needs.
Those were my first glimpses of the man that would over the course of the next few days become the talk of the town in chess circles.