‘You will meet many men, and they will promise you many things’, Atsango recalled, as she finished her business with the mama mboga. Her mother put a special emphasis on this. ‘I don’t want you to turn out like me’…
‘W-w-would you like a cup of… Tea?’, he offered, as he saw a small, austere shack, blackened by soot, surrounded by a mismatched collection of tables and chairs and whose sign offered ‘Chai Moto Kila Wakati’. A sign, he thought to himself. But a sign of what exactly? He was feeling particularly vulnerable. Unfamiliar environment, strange people, and now her, Atsango.
So they sat in silence for a couple of minutes, unsure of where to start. Attempts at talking should not be such hard work, he thought. But why was it so hard to talk to her?
As she looked at this stranger, the honesty in his eyes, coupled with a strange pain that she could sense under the facade of blankness. No wonder she gave him her name so easily, especially after the spectacle with the potatoes. That was where she saw who he really was. Vulnerable and hurting.
‘Let me get that’, she added, making a motion to wipe away a spot of mud on his face. She saw the scars, and they were fresh. He tried to hide them, but her questioning eyes made him realize she had seen them.
‘I fell’, he offered, but she didn’t buy it. She had seen far too many scars on her brothers to take his word for it.
‘You certainly fall a lot’, she pointed out. The potato incident, that would not be forgotten any time soon.
‘What is her name?’, she asked. Men, she had come to learn, did not fight for just anything. It was either women or money.
‘Who?’, he asked, hoping she would not notice his attempt at evasion. But she did.
‘I hope she was worth it’, she added.
‘Love does that to you’, he responded, looking away.
But was it really love? He certainly loved her, he was sure of that. She was certainly interested in him.
Wait, was she interested in him or what he had? He had always ignored this feeling that was now looming and provoking such strange thoughts.
Of course she loved him. She had to love him.
The fights, the note, the sinking feeling after she left, how easily he was now talking to this girl he barely knew about this person he had given so much of himself to… Was he so blind that he could not see what was right in front of him?
‘What have I done?’
As the tea was poured into chipped mugs, and a large chapati was put between them, he realized this was not a fight he would win any time soon. While she pursed her lips to cool the tea, he started fidgeting with the note. He wanted to show her, but then that would scare her off. Who wants to be the target of some stranger’s emotional baggage? Who wants to know what lies in the recesses of the mind of someone they barely even know?
Then again, a sponge, he reckoned, can only soak up so much before it starts leaking…
So he started laughing uncontrollably, much to her shock. ‘Funny how we spend so much time hiding who we really are’, he started, ‘only for some accident or another to shatter everything we spent time trying to hide…’
As he sat there, laughing and making a scene, she could see just how much pain he was in. But hers was a much darker pain.