Celebrating East African Writing!
You and your friends were in agreement, the new boy on the 2nd floor of ‘Kivuli’ apartments was good looking. Besides, he dressed right and walked right. What didn’t add up though, was his indifference. Even when you and the girls openly gawped at him, he ambled by without noticing.
Soon, admiration turned to curiosity; and finally resentment. Still, he strutted by; headphones plugged into his ears, a black back-pack dangling from his shoulder.
‘He must be ‘gay’,’ your friend Trish said, pressing her lips together, to even the spread of the lip-gloss she constantly applied.
‘No!’ you said sharply, surprising even your self. You felt the need to protect the new boy. Why? You couldn’t tell.
‘I think ‘dimples’ here, has a crush on the new boy,’ Trish teased. She always made fun of your dimples when she wanted to put you down. When she thought you were out of earshot, she said they were cute.
‘I’ve seen him necking with some girl in a Mathree,’ you lied. The others looked at you disbelievingly. Averting their gaze, you scuffed the ground with the tips of your black pumps.
Who didn’t have a crush on the new boy? Even Trish’s nonchalance didn’t take you in. You’d noticed how her eyes widened each time he sauntered by.
‘Don’t you think he is a little too tall for you?’ Nduku said. ‘He is more of Trish’s height.’
Nduku was Shao. She wore a petticoat and kept tugging at it from under her skirt. Who in their right mind still wore petticoats anyway? All right, your mum did. But she was old.
When Nduku first moved to Kivuli she said she was saved. Each time ‘boy-talk’ came up – and that was most of the time – she’d slink away. It wasn’t long before she began to giggle along, her big tummy rippling under her tight T Shirt. She looked older than her eighteen years. What you detested most was her deference to Trish. You did what you always did – You ignored her.
Just as he had appeared, without warning, the new boy disappeared. For a full week he was nowhere to be seen. You and your friends said nothing. However, the fear, he’d gone for good, loomed at the back of your minds.
‘Do you think he’s ever coming back?’ Trish asked, taking you by surprise. The two of you were hanging out atAdamsarcade. Trish’s freshly done hair looked fabulous. It always did.
‘Who?’ You asked, feigning ignorance.
‘Come off it. You know I mean Tony.’
‘Aha! I see! I didn’t know he was called Tony.’
‘So how do you know who I’m talking about if you didn’t know the new boy was called Tony?’
‘I thought you said he was ‘Gay’?’
‘You like him, don’t you?’
On and on, the two of you went, stopping only when Trish’s mum happened by. Hauling a giant bag of groceries, she heaved a sigh of relief when she spotted you and her daughter. The two of you never mentioned another word about Tony.
Then one sunny Sunday, you flagged down a Citi Hoppa bus, and plunked onto an empty seat by the door. Paying scant attention to the passenger by your side, you pulled out a glossy magazine and buried your head in it.
‘Don’t I know you from Kivuli?’ the passenger next to you enquired.
Your heart almost leaped out of your wide open mouth. It was him. The baseball cap he wore had made it difficult to recognize him.
Stealing a sideways glance you tried to speak, but your words got no further than the back of your throat.
‘What’s that you are reading?’ he asked, reaching out.
Words still deserted you. When you finally found the words, you asked where he’d been. Your voice sounded strange.
‘I moved in with my mum. I couldn’t get along with my step mum,’ he said. He gave you his number just before he got off. You dialed it so he could store yours. You were floating on air.
That evening he called to ask how your day had gone. His had been eventful. He narrated how he’d scampered out of a sports-bar after a bomb scare. His team – Man U – had won, though. Could you go out with him? The coming Saturday would be perfect. Since it was the first time, you could bring a girlfriend along. ‘You could come with your tall friend. What was her name? Trish; wasn’t it? See you Saturday, and sweet dreams,’ he said, and hung up.
There was no way you were taking anyone near him; not Trish, not anyone. That night you fell asleep with a big smile on your face.
Like all eagerly- awaited-events, Saturday was long in coming. When it finally did, you were as jumpy as hell. Each time the phone rang, you dreaded it was Tony calling to say – he would not be able to make it.
He stood by a Newspaper vendor, at the entrance of Uchumi House. You watched a while; then walked up to him. He did not see you until you were right beside him. Looking around, like he expected someone to be with you, the realization you were alone momentarily clouded his countenance. Recovering quickly, he leaned over, and kissed you fleetingly on the cheek.
He suggested a place at the corner of the street; it was cool and never got too crowded. You nodded your assent.
Tugging at the ‘SURPRISE’ restaurant’s frosted-glass door, he stepped aside to let you in. A girl in a corner un-glued her face from a glowing lap-top and waved. Tony ignored her.
‘Hey! Who is the new catch?’ a guy shouted from the counter.
‘Don’t mind them,’ he said, pulling out a chair for you. Carefully, with steady hands, he poured out your drink. ‘Your dimples make you look Angelic,’ he said. A dreamy Jazz tune wafted about the dimly lit room. Despite not being a Jazz enthusiast, the soothing rise and fall of the artiste’s horn had you nodding.
‘How come you didn’t bring your friend?’
Raising your glass, you took a healthy swig and said: ‘I thought it was me you asked out on a date?’
‘Of course; but it would have been great if you brought a friend along.’
‘’A’ friend, or ‘my’ friend? ’You asked
He remained silent.
‘Anyone you had in mind?’ you persisted.
‘I’d have loved to meet Trish,’ he admitted, partly averting his face.
‘Trish’s on her way. She’ll buzz me once she’s in town. Then I’ll fill her in on where we are,’ you lied.
The information seemed to invigorate Tony. He stole a glance at his watch for the umpteenth time. He kept drumming his fingers on the table. It irritated you.
You mentioned the headphones; what music did he prefer? You were an R&B person.
He fixed his gaze on a spot above your head, as though the answer to your question lay there. Suddenly he asked if Trish still spotted the adorable braids he’d last seen her in. You gave up on him.
Your phone rang. You let it ring a while.
‘Is that her?’ he asked, unable to mask his excitement. You ignored him and answered your cousin’s call. Despite not having much to say to Lillian, you stretched the conversation. Only when you could not continue without sounding ridiculous did you hang up.
So this was what your date was all about. All the Neanderthal wanted was to get to your friend Trish. The signs had always been there. Now that it had slowly resolved out of the haze, you felt no anger. Instead, a wave of relief swept through you.
‘Do you still think she is coming?’ he asked, gulping down his insipid drink.
Twirling your glass in your hand, you contemplated splashing its’ contents in his face. No! You would not allow him the benefit of witnessing the extent of your dejection. Instead you slowly shook your head.
‘What’s it you are saying?’ he asked, sitting up.
‘Trish is not coming. She never was.’ You said, enjoying his discomfiture.
‘I thought you said…’
‘I lied,’ you interrupted. Then on an impulse you added: ‘Trish is Gay. She doesn’t date boys.’
Tony almost choked on his drink.
©Patrick Ochieng Ochieng