I’m at Oil Libya Westland’s having dinner or, like the la-di-da might call it, brunch. The afternoon is just clocking out and the evening is starting its shift. Photographers might call it golden hour. I don’t know what writers call it, perhaps the unfit hour. I get a burger and fries and walk to my seat while eyeballing people munching chicken, pizza and all manner of calories. ‘Second week of January and you have already thrown your resolutions to the wind?’ I think, and it’s as if they can feel my judgment because they avert their eyes from my gaze.
I get on the veranda. I like to eat my food with the wind on my face and sweeping views of traffic like any self-respecting millennial. And it’s golden hour after all. The sun might kiss me just right, creating the illusion that I’m Denzel Washington and memsahib might finally walk into my life. Uh, memsahib. I thought I saw you in a short, blue skirt the other day. Did I mention my favorite color is blue? Yeah, blue looks good on you. I can’t decide if it brought out the color of your eyes or your bronze thighs.
But today is not your day because stuck in the middle of my corner table is a one-litre bottle of vodka. I mean, this is a family joint. People come here with kids, but Kenya is a drinking nation after all. Adjacent the corner table is a small girl. She can’t be older than four. She has a big, thick afro you could lose a house in. Its hair you don’t find African women carrying on their heads unless an Indian girl or a horse was involved. She’s yellow. Ripe mango yellow. In small blue shorts and a pink shirt. If today is the day I adopt a child she’s going to be in my favorite color. See, memsahib, you can never go wrong with blue.
Four steps from my table are two gents. They don’t look in any way related to the kid who is now lolling on one of the iron beams supporting the gazebo, humming to something. I can’t make out what it is. But I’m happy it’s not something by that vulgar group, Ethic, or Timmy T Dat. One gent is sponge drunk. He doesn’t look as if he started drinking now; he looks as if he has made drinking his career. Like he clocks in at 8 AM, clocks out at 5 PM and carries work home like it’s a job. We’re going to call him Josh because he looks like a Josh. The other gent is cleaned up in a striped polo shirt. Let’s call him Arragon. They are exchanging banter, oblivious to the kid swinging on the iron beam.
“Is anybody seated here?” I ask. My question disappears in the wind. The kid swings on her iron beam and hums her song, Josh and Arragon exchange their banter.
“Whose drink is this?” I pick up the bottle which is poorly concealed in one of those translucent bags NEMA forced down our throats. Josh jumps out of his chair as if it has developed hot nails. Uh-huh traction.
“Ni yangu,” he screams as if I have just touched his life’s savings.
He picks the bottle up and inspects it as if I have tampered with his life’s work. After he is satisfied that all is well in the world he places it on the kid’s table.
“Why are you putting it on my side?” The kid chirps in an accent that speaks to Group of Schools. Schools where you pay upwards of half a million per term. I’m now concerned, not for the parents paying a Vitz or a Probox every term, but for the lone kid.
“Put it on your table,” I bark like a scorned father.
“Siwezi, watatufukuza. Haufai kukunywa hapa,” Josh says, leaning on a beam next to the kid and taking a long swig. “Lazima ufuate masharti,” he continues as if hiding a bottle of alcohol from management redeems his virtue. He is getting on both of our last nerves, me and my soon-to-be adopted daughter.
“Si uko na bag pale,” I point at his table. “Iweke hapo ndani.”
He staggers back to his table, puts a lid on his life’s work and presses it inside the bag. Arragon is oblivious to what is happening. He’s on his phone. Perhaps texting a hen. Perhaps deciding which filter he will use for his Instagram photo. Lo-Fi or Aden. Decisions.
I settle down with my burger and fries. I’m now fully invested in the kid next to me who seems to have forgotten all about the saga that just happened and has gone back to swinging on the iron beam while humming her songs. For a split second, everything is tranquil in her world.
“Where is Mommy?” I disrupt her.
You never ask a kid where their father is, it’s an un-African question. It opens up a Pandora’s box that might be better left closed. You always ask about mothers. Mothers never leave. They stick around even when you say you want to be a Twitter Influencer.
“She’s not here,” she says in that accent of hers that makes me marvel more than listen. Memsahib, we’re scrapping all our savings and taking our kids to Group of Schools, yes?
“Who did you come with?”
“Where are they?”
“What’s your name?”
“Mmmh?” She shifts gears on me unexpectedly. I mean, where are my manners? I should have started by asking her name but then again I did not go to Group of Schools, eh, cut me some slack. I am the adult here anyway, I should be asking all the questions. And the kid? Well, she should be home finishing her homework.
“Kev,” I say. “What’s yours?”
“Naomi.” She pronounces it, ‘Nee-o-me’
I get tongue tied and stare at my burger which is now cold. I try to make sense of this. Who would leave a perfectly functioning kid swinging on iron beams next to Josh and What’s-his-name? And what’s the policy of adoption in Kenya? It can’t be that stringent, I mean we practically have the same skin tone and the same taste in color.
My thoughts don’t get time to cook, Arragon barks at Nee-o-me while staring at his phone. “Nimo, be careful you don’t fall.” She giggles and goes back to swinging and humming as if his words were wind.
Everything spirals after that. A woman in a black and white romper with a slit from toe to inner thigh appears and Nee-o-me runs to her chanting, “Mommy, mommy.” Her hair is flat-ironed and she is wearing glasses. Designer. The kind you wear for style instead of eyesight problems. Her skin tone is black—coffee no hint of milk. Her demeanor screams summer bunny. There is no way that child belongs to Arragon and that woman, I conclude.
“You’re having fun with the guys, eh?” the woman says after shooting a look of disapproval at Josh, who removed the bottle of alcohol from the small bag a long time ago and is now taking long swigs forgetting his good virtues. The small bag, which I’m only noticing now, is branded with images of that movie, Frozen.
I don’t want to be one of those dullards who behave as if they know how to parent other people’s kids better than their parents. I focus on my cold burger and fries. After they have left and after I am done. I think about Nee-o-me. Will growing up around alcohol weaken or strengthen her resolve? I think about Josh. Will he look in the mirror one day and decided to quit his day job? I also think about this blog, what will go up. I stare at the iron beam, now empty, but Nee-o-me’s ghost still clings to it. It’s quiet now but her effervescent voice echoes on the walls and I decide she’ll kickstart our year.
“Where is your mommy?”
“She’s not here.”
“Who did you come with?”
“What’s your name?”
Happy New Year!
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