Celebrating East African Writing!
It was my time to eat. Dressed in a grey Germany hand-made suit that I bought in Berlin, a pink shirt that I bought in New York, a stripped yellow and black tie that I bought in London and a pair of python leather half-boots that I bought in Sicily I left my office and strolled to my Prado to leisurely drive to India Hotel which was three hundred metres away.
I reached the door and as usual made my order right at the door. At India Hotel customers had to make their orders at the door. It isn’t like their ordinary hotels that allow people to get in then they are asked what they want to eat or drink.
I walked to the sink and washed my hands. From there I went to table number 5. I sat and very comfortably waited for my order to be served. I had ordered a whole spring chicken stuffed with tomatoes, garlic and five medium size Irish potatoes. My main meal to go with it was a little finger millet ugali from Maragoli. I loved ugali made from that millet because the grain was first fermented before being dried and prepared for grinding. When you looked at it you thought it was a black cake.
I had not really sat. My hands hadn’t even dried. Hawinde arrived in his local tired clothes that had forgotten their original colour and went to wash his hands as was the custom at the India Hotel. He finished and came to sit right in front of me. I wasn’t sure that he had been allowed into the hotel.
Hawinde, though in tired attire, was clean. He had bathed using plenty of Panga soap and had very generously polished his cracked black shoes. It was surprising that when he sat opposite me I looked at him like he was exuding a hot smell.
India Hotel isn’t an ordinary hotel. Food was prepared in your view. The cooks are healthy and neat. I have never seen them sweat or sneeze. It isn’t like Kawaida Hotel which has a very clear warning in red NO ADMISSION TO THE KITCHEN. Pray you never see what goes on in that kitchen. If a piece of meat drops it is always picked and returned into the sufuria. Cooks sneeze and blow their noses as need arises.
No nit had ever been permitted in the hotel. It’s a hotel for people with their things to eat.
Soon a member of the security staff approached Hawinde. “Excuse me Mwananchi, did you make your order at the door?”
Hawinde kept quiet. He felt offended. He didn’t see why he was being bothered. He had not gone to India Hotel to order anything to eat but he knew people go to hotels to eat.
However, he hadn’t gone to India to eat. He had gone there to get a report from me because he had requested me to assist him secure market for his tomatoes to enable him live a better life. He had invested in a greenhouse and was sure that he would earn good money from it.
Hawinde doesn’t know that I’m ever busy, so busy that to remember small things is so difficult. He isn’t aware that in this world of today we live by plan. If I have planned to eat chicken I have to eat chicken, not half chicken, and I belong to this club that doesn’t allow society and its culture to interrupt us. We have power to interrupt nature.
He knew food was a minor issue in our culture. People eat it in times of distress and even in times of leisure. We don’t eat only when we are hungry. We eat even when we are full.
The security man repeated his question, this time nearly firmly, “Mwananchi you have to tell me, have ordered your food?”
“I’m not Mwenyenchi, I’m Hawinde.”
“Whatever it’s, it is okey. Have you made your order?”
“Don’t worry about me.”
The security man left.
A cook brought my food. I didn’t waste any of my time. It was my time to eat, my turn to enjoy my food. I tore at my chicken a thick muscle from the breast and filled my mouth. Hawinde looked at me and said in his heart, “So he doesn’t even pray even when he is blessed to have such a heavenly meal on earth.”
But I didn’t care.
As I ate his eyes kept on following me. When I broke ugali his eyes followed my hand. As I put my lump in my mouth his eyes followed it to the mouth. At one time he looked like he wanted to snatch me my staffed chicken. I had to eat watchfully.
Hawinde did that from the start to the end. I stood up to go and wash my hands. The meal had been made very well, just like any other day. Food at India Hotel was the same yesterday, today, tomorrow and for all days that it will operate. It is the only hotel in this earthly environment that has no room for improvement.
But the day Hawinde came to sit opposite me the taste disappeared.
Out side India I walked to my Prado burning inside me that Hawinde would stick on me like a leech. I sweated. However, he reminded me about his tomatoes and when I invited him into the Prado he turned down my offer. I burnt in shame and embarrassment.
© James Kemoli Amata 2009
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