They come here everyday like stray dogs leaving the comfort of their kennels at home to play in the cul-de-sac. Tole is the oldest. A retired soldier with a mind like an imaginarium, he claims to have met Queen Victoria and fought in the East African Campaign against von Lettow-Vorbeck’s forces. No one knows what the bald Barthlomeo does for a living. Mandole is a quiet water vendor; he owns the next shop. Garrison Mwambao is an excommunicated Catholic priest and the conscious of the pack. He was once a shepherd of men until he ‘was struck by the light on his way to Damascus’, as he puts it. Then there is me. My closest relation is a lady from Voi who comes by the shop every other Saturday. I suppose you can call her my girlfriend.
Old Tole was heartbroken by the failure of the ‘82 coup attempt against Moi’s rule. He says that I look like Ochuka and talks to me in war phrases whenever we are alone. He reenacts a march and salutes to a spirit army general. We don’t give much consideration to his sentiments. He hates women, too.
“Leave that woman! Coast women are good for nothing.” He says. And then after what seems like a deliberation in his conscious he adds, “Get yourself a young girl from Murang’a to birth you a child or two.”
“Yes Tole, I should do that!”
“Or is it that your gadgets are not working properly? Is that why you only see madam once a week?” The old man says, totally disregarding my privacy. There is an unspoken pact between us to be brutally honest. He sneers and looks around the pack to make sure everyone hears him.
“I know a doctor who can get you mechanics working properly, double your horsepower.”
The others laugh. I hate it when conversations revolve around my life. Garrison is silent all the while, as if some invisible doctrine still spread its webs around his neck, preventing him from participating in any profanity. ‘The after taste of religion’ he calls it.
“Well,” Bartholomew, as if waking up from a reverie, says. “You can bring her to me. I have enough medicine for all the women in Kenya and Somalia.”
We all burst into hysterical laughter. Old Tole has to control his laughter less its force collapses his tuber-ridden lungs. He coughs and spits bloody phlegm on the path. Damn you old man, I curse to myself. Mandole laughs loudest and is the last one to quell down looking at us like a hungry child, waiting for the next crumbs of conversation to set him laughing again. Garrison is the last man to speak as we all rise to set out in different directions.
“You people.” He retorts. “Can’t you find anything else to talk about?”
“Damn Virgin!” Old Tole curses under his breath in what is concealed as a mumble, but loud enough to betray his contempt for the man of God.
As the clouds gather overhead I rise towards my premises. Barthlomeo offers to help drag the wheelbarrows and tiles back into the shop. I don’t trust him. I fear that one day I will find my shop robbed.
In the distance, Old Tole strolls towards his house, sad and lonely, I know he is already anticipating the next day. He comes here for the free Roaster cigarettes I buy him. I close shop and call the madam.
“Can I see you today?” It’s a Thursday. Damn you Tole!
© Clifton Anthony Gashagua
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