I choose to perch at Kalu’s to give time for the giggles to dissipate. Lord, how I pray that I will not make it to the Amini tabloid with the caption “Of mobile phones and texting women!” If anyone in the company saw it, the long awaited promotion would sure be gone. I must admit though that I would be curious to see the proportions of weight the Amini Stars (the gazette company) would accord my caricature. Kalu hands me a second banana; food is best served when hungry.
As I sit on this puff, or what was previously a wooden tomato carton but now cleverly draped in a white silk sack, I notice a drosophila melanogaster traversing the space. It is the only fly along this line of almost 10 grocers. 20 months back, lackadaisical structures, garbage-laced landscapes and the chocking pungency from the council’s public room was commonplace. But then came an official who dreamed of a new Amini and now we boast of kiosks that troubled men enough to yield to their wives demands of “How can ‘dukas’ look classier than our homes?”. In fact, this was a subject of discussion in one of the estate meetings and by the next quarter, residents of Phase IV were the proud occupants of freshly painted and aptly re-branded “Terra Cotta” flats. The generosity of colours used won the council’s heart and our longstanding request of a concrete perimeter fencing was honoured. Soon the rest of Amini got wind of the government’s incentive and was all up in brushes.
“Habari ya msichana?” (How is the girl?)
“Poa kabisa!” (Very well!)
“Mnaendelea vizuri?” (All is well?)
“Kabisa! Kabisa!” (Very very well!)
Conversing in 3rd person is the norm here and conversations can get move from subtly hilarious to extremely intense. I must confess, though, that some discussions can be quite therapeutic giving you the chance to step away from self and be an ombudsman. Only in this case there may not necessarily be any complaints lodged against yourself.
“Otherwise?” (Translated “How is life treating you?” in Nairobi)
“Ni ku-hustle tu.” (The rat race as usual)
“Hustle lazima.” (Yap! There really isn’t any other way out)
“Familia inaendelea vipi?” (How is your family?)
“Poa sana. Actually saa hii tu nimetoka kuongea na madam akinieleza story za mjunior. Kameanza kusimama simama.”
He smiles proudly of his 9 month old son who is soon to walk. There is a noticeable shrill in his voice as he anticipates visiting them over Christmas; they live up country.
“Msichana wako ashaanza kujikalisha? (Is your daughter now sitting on her own?)
Sitting? O my goodness! It is at this point that I realize that when our conversation begun, Kalu was just addressing one person. Me! and he definitely has me confused with someone else. My mind races through the 8 phases of Amini but I cannot quite come up with a lookalike. The kilos added in the past few months must have convinced his imagination that I was with child, 5 or 6 months old. I have never been with a man in a way that would warrant me to be a mama. I obviously would love to be one, probably of twins, but all this pizza is giving me a false persona. But how is it that a man from whom I have bought provisions for over 3 years takes me for another? I mean I am here almost every week binging on his musa acuminatas. Those bananas are equally guilty! Then again SaraMarie’s Caleb was telling us the other day that men can say anything. Anything enough to get them the answers they want. Answers to place themselves in a position. A position of strategy.
About the same moment of his interrogation, a group of customers alight from a disco-ridden matatu and crowd Kalu’s ‘reception’ area. The freshly cut slices of watermelons have attracted them or perhaps the hot December sun has forced them to seek this waterlogged fruit. “Hizi zimetoka TZ.” He advertises. I bet they say the same in Tanzania. Snob appeal the marketers call it. I pick my bag, my folder, my phone and then proceed to step on the plastic pedal that lifts the lid of this almost new stainless steel rubbish bin. Remarkable progress is what these grocers have made. If it was yesteryear no one would have really cared if you dropped a peel on the ground but the government came, the government saw and the government cemented and tiled each of the floors of these cabins. Long live the government! Long live!