I’m a whore for handbags and shoes. Right now I have only two handbags left because I have sisters so… Between the two there’s one I love the most. It’s blue with tiny white flowers. Denim on the inside and some fabric I don’t know on the outside. Double stranded. Spacious. Gorgeous.
Inside I always carry a purse (Ankara), a leso, two pads, my phone, a charger, a notebook and a pen, thread and needle, a razor blade, a pair of socks and a bottle of water. A girl has got to be prepared whenever, wherever.
So, I’m walking on the road with my bag over my shoulder. It’s 11:00 and in Mombasa, that means boiler room. I ask myself severally how I survive the naked sun and I never get an answer. I guess some things just grow on you.
I’m going for another session of odd jobs, cloth washing to be precise. Who would have thought that I, myself, would be washing clothes for people so I can afford a meal? Life indeed is unpredictable.
I haven’t eaten anything since morning. I’m hoping to get at least a cup of porridge before I set it on the pile of clothes I’m sure to be given. Kids clothes. Now Mombasa is an island and the sand here is grey or whitish. Whatever you choose. This sand cannot turn your clothes from blue to purple. But these kids! Where they play I’ve no idea. Only my hands can talk.
A motorbike approaches me. The driver stops beside me. I know him so I smile. By I know him I mean I see him around and once in a while he smiles at me. He has never carried me.
“Hi.” He says.
“Hi.” I say walking on.
“Wait. Hold on a minute.” He says turning his ignition off. I don’t like that.
“I’m in a hurry.” I say.
“Just a minute please.” He insists.
I’m a good person. I listen to people. I believe in hearing people out.
“OK. What is it?” I say going back.
“I’m sorry to ask but..” He leans over and says in a small almost inaudible voice, “are you married?”
My answer is immediate. I am married. I’m married to myself.
“Oh. OK. You know I suspected you were married but just never got the chance to ask.”
And now you have the answer. Good work.
"Yes. I am married."
"I've never seen your husband. Where is he?"
I think fast. No one has seen me with anyone or anything that I could call my husband. He’d know I was lying if I said he was around.
"Work." "Saudi Arabia?"
I had Nairobi or some other town in mind but international? Wow, he really thinks I’m that cool. But why Saudi Arabia? That’s cliché.
"No." "OK. Where?" "Dubai."
"Oh. Dubai. OK. That's good. So you just live alone?" "No, I live with people."
Very interesting people.
"I know you live with people but you're alone, right?"
This is the part of a conversation I detest. It makes me hate myself for hearing people out because they just make sure they talk nonsense in the long run.
He can’t read my annoyance because all he sees is my dental formula. I gotta stop smiling. For my sake.
“Where are you going?” He asks. I want to tell him it’s none of his business but the good part in me suggests i say to my parents in laws’ house.
“Religious studies?” He quickly asks looking at my bag. Hmm. That could work too. He said it, I didn’t.
“Yes, I’m going for religious studies.”
Because where else can a woman whose husband works in Dubai go at 11 in the morning?
"What time will you be back?"
“I don’t know. I have exams today.” I lie.
” That’s unfortunate. I thought maybe I could wait for you so we can talk.”
"Talk about what?" "You know, how we can help each other out."
I laugh and start walking away because I just can’t not want to punch him.
"Can I have your number?"
He calls after me.
I’m gone before he can say anything more. Two blocks away and my mind is back to my hands and the number of rapes they’ve had to endure.
We meet again the next day. I’m from the market, tired and hungry. It’s 12:45. He’s waiting outside a shop for a customer. We exchange pleasantries like normal grown ups and then he pitches.
"So what do you think?" "About what?" "You know, what we talked about yesterday. Helping each other out." "I'm married."
“I know but you know there are things he can not provide that I can.”
Like what? Free rides? Meaningless chats beside the road under the sun?
“Is that so?”
“Yes. Do this. Give me your number and I’ll call you so we can meet at a quiet place. You know a place with no people because we wouldn’t want people seeing you and thinking bad things.”
"Yeah. Of course." I agree.
He takes out his phone.
Like I said, I’m a good person.
"What do I save as?"
I tell him my name.
"I would have given you a lift but I'm waiting for a customer."
Blah. Blah. Blah.
“It’s OK.” I say and walk away. I almost trip and I know it’s him eyeing me. Probably trying to shape out my ass and hips from the not-so-revealing outfit I have on. An outfit fit for a married woman with a working husband in Dubai who can’t give her things that a Boda boda rider can but only when no one is watching.
He calls in the evening. Wants to know how I’m doing. Really wants to talk to me. Plans for us to meet at some deserted road. I agree.
"Can you come out right now?"
"No, I can't." "I wanted to give you something."
"What?" "A bottle of juice."
Ha! Why not.
"What flavour?" "Tamarind." "Sorry. Maybe next time."
Now tamarind juice is not just juice for me. It’s holy water. I love that flavour like I love sticking my nose where I shouldn’t. And for him to mention it when I haven’t tasted it in months was rude. I don’t care of he didn’t know that. That was a punch in the gut.
He calls the next day. I don’t pick up. He calls again in the evening. I pick up.
"What happened? I waited for you."
Oh, the date.
“I’m not in my house. I got a sudden call from my mom. I’m at her place.”
“When are you coming back?”
He says he’ll come get me. I just call him with the address. I say I’ll definitely call him.
"Have you missed me?" He asks.
My phone suddenly looses its network.
Two days pass. He calls. I don’t pick up. On the third day he calls.
"How are you?" "I'm not OK. I have a cold." "Can I bring you tamarind juice?" "No. I don't like tamarind juice." "How about mango or passion?" "Cold or warm?" "Cold. Freezing cold." "The doctor asked me to stay away from cold things." "Then I'll bring you warm passion juice." "Warm juice? That's like eating mud."
He doesn’t call again.
I see him four days later and he says hi but doesn’t stop his motorbike.
The following day I buy myself a bottle of cold freezing tamarind juice. Yep, still my favourite drink.