After a protracted game of cat and mouse, the insurance company finally cut me a cheque for my broken camera lens. I bought the lens online and was notified that it arrived on a slow Monday afternoon. My plan was to duck into town, pick it up, run a few other errands and duck out. I was on the corner of Monrovia Street and Moi Avenue when the storm began. Lightning cracked across the sky, big drops wet the tarmac, and in just a few minutes the rain was roaring. A woman walking by popped open her umbrella but the wind whistled and whipped it inside out as if to say, “Not today Madam, not today.”
Now a bunch of us are huddled under whatever little shelter there is as it pounds on, hoping it will wane. A stream that will soon breach the top of the kerb and start flowing over the pavement has formed. On the day I left my van home! Tena I wore a dress and new sandals! Sigh. People are talking over the rain – office gossip, handshake politics, bad marriages – nothing is out of bounds.
I’m standing on the outer limits of the crowd plotting my escape, because one of many bad things is sure to happen if I let myself be swallowed by it. There is a loudmouth talking tribal politics, withering the lungs of everyone around him with his breath. I don’t want to have to stand there with my stomach bloating in real time. There is the secretary from some government office whose handbag should carry third party insurance because it’s bruising everyone who comes into contact with it. She’s talking to her friend, a gaunt woman with a tumbleweed on her head that’s been there so long it has developed a personality of its own – unruly, disruptive and funky. I don’t want to be stuck behind her, eating that hair.
There is also the possibility of a tall guy noticing all the space above my head – and I don’t know how tall brain works – but he decides, Oh there’s a groove I can fit into, and stands right in front of me. Then I have no view of the street, and at some point he’s bound to forget that I’m there entirely and step on my toes. On the plus side, he might be so apologetic that he offers to buy me a cup of tea, and just like that my toes have earned me a date. Still, is that bet worth the hand? Nope.
So I hike up my dress, wrap my hair in a scarf and vow to cross that stream if I have to wade in it. Just as I’m preparing to make a mad dash across, a man comes up to me holding an umbrella branded with some corporate name that he probably got at an AGM. It’s a big, sturdy umbrella with strong bones that are feeling nothing of the wind.
I notice his pockets first because he’s wearing white khakis and he’s one of those guys who fill up their pockets so much he looks like he has curves. Not surprisingly, he’s swinging his car key on his right hand. I want to roll my eyes and make a smart comment about the keys being the only thing that won’t fit in the pocket, but I am under the shelter of his sturdy umbrella and I have bigger fish to fry. He asks where I am going, I tell him I’m trying to get downtown to grab a bus home. He asks, “Where is home?”
He says, “You don’t want to go downtown right now. I was just there. I’ve parked in the basement of Nakumatt Lifestyle. You’ll tell me in the car.”
I visually map out my route to downtown again. I’ll have to plough through droves of commuters simultaneously saving my eyes from being impaled with umbrellas, cars splashing dirty water, jostling men to get through the door of the mathree…Ah Ah.
“Nakumatt Lifestyle? That’s close enough.”
We turn back. He leaves me on the ground floor while he goes downstairs to pay for parking and fetch the car. I start to get anxious about getting in the car with this stranger in white khakis and too many things in his pocket. I consider getting an Uber instead, but the roads are gridlocked and we could be in traffic for hours. Is that really the prudent option? Also he left me his umbrella so am I just going to steal it?
I take out my phone and text my sister my whereabouts just as he emerges in a black BMW and rolls down the passenger side window.
“So where are we headed?” he asks once I am inside.
“Kiambu Road,” I say, clasping shut the umbrella.
He takes it from me and places it on the floor at the back. Then he offers me napkins on the dashboard to dry my fingers. We join Koinange Street and then University Way where we sit in traffic for an eternity. During this time one of two phones sitting on the center console buzzes. He excuses himself and to speak to someone whose name I gather from conversation is Jethro. I read the plates embossed on the side mirror and text them to my sister. Then I take a good look at him. He looks old enough to be balding but not so old that he’s made peace with it. He’s clean shaved his head and has a neat, trimmed beard. His complexion straddles the line between light and dark. His thighs fill up his pants and anyone can tell they are strapping without looking too hard. He’s not nursing a paunch, but I can’t say he’s lean either.
I’m drawn to a disagreement he is having with Jethro over the language of some document. It’s clear from the pinstripe, contrast collar shirt, and the leather watch with a blue face on his wrist that he must be a suit.
When he hangs up, I ask him as much and he says, “I’m not a suit, I’m the person who brings suits.” He leaves that there, sitting between us and boy is he pleased with himself! He has these expressive eyebrows that say it all. He is smug; I find that annoying.
“So you’re a lawyer?”
“A litigator. I specialize in estate litigation.”
“What does that entail?”
“For instance if a rich guy dies and one of his children starts selling off properties before his will is executed, and the other children decide to sue or get an injunction on the sale, I’m the guy they call.”
He says it flatly, like the business of death and property is something he discusses over tea and croissants every day. Well, I suppose he does. It just hits a raw nerve for me because when my father died we lost all three of his timber yards to his brothers and had to start afresh on our own. What I would have given to know an estate litigator then. He tells me that he was downtown viewing a building that is the center of contention in a case he is working. He has a drab office at Pension Towers that he checks into from time to time, but mostly works out of coffee houses or country clubs when he’s not in court.
“So you like the work?”
He shrugs. “Some cases drag on for years. You know how our courts work. And in the end money changes hands and the judge rules against you without cause. The law is not always just. I get paid, yes, but it takes a toll on the clients. That part I don’t like. But these days people are open to arbitration. Things move along faster and it’s a good day when both parties walk away happy.”
I like how candid he is about everything. “What about you? What do you like about your work?”
“I like being my own boss. And being the silent intruder on people’s intimate moments.”
“Okay, don’t tell me,” he says looking at me. He does this thing where he looks right at me when he’s thinking. It’s unnerving. “You’re a…a private investigator.”
I laugh aloud. “What?”
“Okay, an Uber driver. No, a wedding planner. You look like you’d make a good wedding planner.”
“Based on what?”
He takes a long look at me again. “You just look like a ka-chick who likes flowers and weddings nini nini.”
Ah. He’s loosening up. “I’m a photographer.”
“Mmh. Close enough,” he grins.
Traffic frees up once we branch off to Forest Road and we get to Kiambu road in ten minutes. A little heavy on the gas pedal this one, but I am not surprised. At Ridgeways he asks whether we can take a little detour and before I protest, he gets on the phone with this Jethro character again. He gives him directions to Java at Ciata Mall. They talk for a while after he parks the car and as he concludes, he gets out. From the back seat, he grabs a coat, circles the car and then opens my door. A lovely masculine fragrance hits my nostrils as he slips his phone into his inner coat pocket.
“What’s your name?” he asks the way you would ask a twelve-year-old girl.
“Is it short for Melisandre?”
I chuckle. “Oh no, no no. Just Melissa.”
“I’m Harry,” he says, extending his hand for me to shake. “Come we go. No leave that, I’ll still drive you home. But first coffee, or whatever you want. You’ll tell me when we’re inside.”
I don’t want to leave my expensive lens in this stranger’s car because insurance won’t pay for it again if I lose it, so I insist on carrying my bags. At Java, he orders an espresso and tells me that he’s a coffee nut. I tell him that I am more of a tea lover and he says, “Perfect. We’ll get along great. Where there is coffee there is tea.”
We talk about Game of Thrones for a bit and then he can’t hold his curiosity anymore. He asks about the lens and why I won’t leave it in the car. “What’s the story behind it? Tell me.”
“Oh God no. Absolutely not.”
“Ah now I know it’s a good story. I can always sniff out a good story.”
We’re in the middle of this tug of war when this boisterous man arrives and I don’t have to be told that this is Jethro. He takes over the conversation with tales of court proceedings that day, and for the next half hour I might as well be the salt shaker on the table. I sit there quietly sipping my tea and feeling neglected. I don’t want to be rude, seeing how Harry got me out of a jam, but I feel a sudden exhaustion come over me with all that learned talk. The warmth of my house beckons. But more importantly, I’m wearing new sandals that have been pinching my small toe all day and I am not developing a tailor’s bunion out of politeness. Besides, I can’t wait to get out of this bra!
I wipe my hands on a wet tissue, push the chair back and grab my things. It startles them both. I thank Harry for the lift and tell him I have to go.
“I live not too far from here so I’ll just walk,” I say.
They try to get me to stay but I’m already standing and I’m not sitting back down. Harry offers to walk me out then hands me his phone and tells me to key in my number.
He says, “It was a pleasure meeting you Melisandre,” and I know now that Melisandre is going to be our inside joke from now on…if he calls.
We’ve started a new series that we are calling Taste of Mel. Is it Mel’s story? Yes. Is it Mel’s side of the story? No. Is it a continuation of Njambi & Kagwe’s World? No. It’s a spin off people, a spin off. It is what The Good Fight is to The Good Wife, or Grown.ish to Black.ish, or Better Call Saul to Breaking Bad.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, Read next: Little Bird23