Celebrating East African Writing!
The first time he stopped by the kibanda to pick some tomatoes, just when my heart was running riot for him, changed my life maybe forever. He was always smart usually in black jacket and trousers and blue or white shirt. His long shoes were magical to me. I long yearned to see his eyes but not once did he pass by without his dark glasses. It wasn’t infatuation really, was it?
For two months now, mother had no trouble asking me to sell mboga at the kibanda since I had found reason to open even earlier just to watch this man driving my mind crazy. So this Saturday afternoon, when my Mr. Cupid asked me to wrap tomatoes worth twenty shillings I felt my heart beat in doubles, so loudly I wished he could see it. I did my best to choose the best tomatoes and as I had planned I wrapped one more tomato praying inside that he would notice, too. Mr. Cupid just stood there like some statue, and when I handed him the wrap, he muttered a thank you and walked away. Why did he insist on those shades on the eyes? I watched him walk away so gentlemanly with my mouth open and my nipples hard, my legs shaking. I didn’t notice Mike come. When I became aware of Mike, like me, he was looking at Mr. Cupid.
“Mike, what are you buying? Sukuma as usual?” I asked trying to deflect attention. “That guy, I know him.” Mike said. He then looked at me. “You feel him. You definitely feel him.” I ignored him and wrapped some sukuma, tomatoes and onions before sending him away. He was on his way but after some five metres, he came back quickly in a sneaky way. “That guy, he is single.” He whispered loudly, winked his right eye, smiled foolishly and went away. I just shook my head, pretending not to be interested in what he was saying. I wiped my hands on my leso and felt my stomach, kneading in a bit. I then felt my heart, squeezing harder on the left breast. You must be crazy, I told myself. Very crazy. Anyway, thanks Mike.
For the next two days, I didn’t see Mr. Cupid. I would sit at the kibanda constantly peeping in the direction of the bus stop hoping that I would see him. Sometimes I saw someone from afar and thought it was him only to curse loudly to the astonishment of a present customer when I realise it wasn’t him. I started blaming myself for giving an obvious hint. Was he the kind of guy who didn’t take it well if a woman hinted at love? No way, even if he was not to me.
On the evening of the third day, Mr. Cupid appeared to me. He wore a pull-neck red jumper over a seemingly blue shirt with black trousers and long black shoes. His dark eye glasses were intact. I looked at him as he passed by. Please God, let him stop and come by. He stopped some few metres away. He seemed to think for a while and made that much awaited about turn towards my kibanda. I served everyone so fast to clear the way. I told others it was too late for me to cut their sukuma and they went away whining.
When my man arrived, I was serving the last customer. He looked around trying to sample out what was in the kibanda. “How do we call that in Kiswahili?” He asked pointing at a cucumber. “Cucumber,” I answered making him to laugh, the gentleman way. “Okay, I know its cucumber in English, what is it in Kiswahili?” I shook my head. He was now looking straight into my eyes. I could not see his eyes though, but I felt at that moment like an electric switch had been turned on in my stomach. He said he wanted to try something new this day. He asked if I could tell him how to prepare any meal with all the spices available in the kibanda. He listened keenly as I enthusiastically explained the few tricks I knew. That one, I don’t like it, he said pointing at a kitungu saumu. I just smiled. I didn’t want him to go. Did he think anything about me? Did he feel the same way towards me? Could his knees be knocking together like mine at this very moment?
The next day, my gentleman was back. I gathered courage to ask him why he only took sukuma wiki and tomatoes the previous day after I had already explained to him some sort of recipes. He looked at me and after some few seconds for what seemed like ages said something I didn’t expect. “Maybe we can try that on Saturday.” I almost said yes but got back to my senses before that word could come out. “Well. By ‘we’ I mean you and I,” he said casually. I pretended to ignore his suggestion but inside I was saying, why can’t we try it tomorrow? Or even tonight.
Maybe it was too unreasonably soon for him to invite me over to his house, he said. If I can create time we could have a walk on Saturday. “You are crazy,” I said to him. “No, you are crazy,” he returned, “a little break from this…would do.” Suddenly mother appeared from nowhere. She should be at the chama, I told her. “As you can see, I am not,” she answered arrogantly before reaching for the small stool to sit on. I looked at my gentleman. “Agreed?” he asked. “Sawa,” I answered without looking at my mother. He picked sukuma and tomatoes and left.
I had to find a way to convince mother of my unavailability on Saturday. She had become so used to having her own schedules after I became too much available at the kibanda. It has been a while since I went out with my friends, I told her.
Friday night, after mother was asleep in our single room tin-house, partitioned by heavy curtains. I tried all the best outfits in my box. The hipsters were too tight. The spaghetti tops were too revealing for my figure. I didn’t own a suit. With all my clothes on the bed, I couldn’t find a suitable outfit, I realised some had become too small since I wore them last. I had no clue about what fascinated my gentleman. I should have asked him since I didn’t even know where he was taking me for the walk.
When Saturday came, I woke up early and dressed in a blue jeans skirt and a yellow blouse, the Dubai kind we buy on the street. At exactly ten, I was at the bus stop as we had agreed. Minutes ticked by. I looked at my phone, being tempted severally to call him. But I realised it was he who had my contacts; I didn’t have his. Thirty minutes gone and I was feeling like people around were noticing my anxiety. I tried to brush aside any thought of him not coming over. Another matatu pulled over. I ignored it but someone called my attention. He was in the front seat and had reserved the next seat for me. I was happy. “Hi,” I said. “Hi.” Sitting next to him made me feel like funning myself. We didn’t talk until we reached the city centre.
We crossed Moi Avenue, past Kenya Cinema and made a short stop at Uchumi. “Do you like ice cream,” he asked. “No, but its okay.” I was not used to eating anything on the street. Being a young mama mboga, ice cream wasn’t part of my diet. We talked about the city. He was the one doing the actual talking while I did my best to ask interesting questions. He seemed to know all about the Basilica, the Kenyatta mausoleum, the Nyayo House etc. As we entered Central Park, he told me something about that big construct, the Nyayo monument. People were taking photos there. Grown ups were playing here and there, many were in twos; Adam and Eve. I suddenly realised that I didn’t quite know the city or all it had to offer. My life had rotated around Kinoo and its environs, more of a rural life in the city. We found a shade under a tree and sat down.
After the ice cream was finished, him having looked around all the while I was eating, he finally spoke. “I am Gerard.” “Celine,” I said. He had so far not commented on my dressing. Then he removed his dark glasses. I looked at him for a very long time. I expected to see something like assurance in his eyes. Some kind of a flame. But I saw something else. He was blind in one eye. He was looking at me with one eye. I looked down slowly, but before I could, he stretched his hand and held up my chin. Then he said something else I wasn’t expecting, again. “I want you to marry me.” What! I wasn’t sure what I was thinking. I have just known he is Gerard, and he is blind in one eye. What would make him think I could marry him? There were two reasons, he said. One is that because he loved me. And the second reason was because I loved him, and he knew it. He saw it in my eyes every time he passed by the kibanda. I told him that I could not marry him for two reasons too. One, I didn’t know him well enough, and secondly, we didn’t speak the same language. He paused for a while. “”The first reason, I can understand. But the second one, it’s not valid. Right now we’ve got one language, the language of love.” This different language thing must be my mother’s teaching, he said. I didn’t answer. But what my mother usually said to me was always significant in my decision making. He gave me two days to think over it.
On the evening of the third day, after our outing, he came by the kibanda again. This time, my mother was present. He greeted her like a son. Mother asked him what he wanted to buy, but he just stood there looking at me. Mother looked at me and back at him and asked if there was something wrong. I thought he would answer but he instead motioned towards me to answer. I made my way out of the kibanda, trying to overcome the shaking, to face Gerard. After a while, I asked him to remove his shades. Then I stretched out my hands to hold his, just the same way I see it being done in soap operas. And in front of my mother, and two other customers who I was not aware of I spoke gently. “I will marry you.” What’s going on, I heard someone ask my mother. She didn’t answer. I then hugged Gerard, for a very long time, feeling the same electric pangs in my stomach. He was smart as usual; I was wearing a white apron as usual.
Ten years later, despite my mother’s initial outrage and my uncertainty, Gerard and I still visit Central Park at least once a month holding hands, only this time round, with Sharon our six year old daughter. I named her after my proud mother.
© Namunyu Molenje 2011
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