Walks of Life

He’s an old guy. His faced has been aged by poverty, stress and working under the hot sun. He looks sixty five; but I’m guessing he is in his early forties. His shoes are something else. They’re old and dusty. The sole worn thin he is probably feeling the harsh tarmac on his hardened heels. They have so many stitches holding it together at some point I don’t think it is one shoe. They’re parts to his shoes. All held together by that copper thread cobbler’s use and sheer will to make it through the day.

That’s what I saw when I looked out of the windows.  Stuck in dreadful traffic my mind wandered. It does that a lot nowadays. It just decides to take a leave of absence; doesn’t even ask me. It just ups and goes whenever and wherever it pleases. I wondered about the man. And his shoes. And his life. What he does. What goes through his mind when he looks up and sees a smug face like mine. Distant. Almost aloof. Or when he sees a windows rolled down, soft music playing and a man or woman with one finger on the steering wheel like they couldn’t care less. Probably drumming out the tune playing. 

He walks past me burdened. His eyes set on a target I can’t see. He is distantiI  don’t  think he notices the sounds of car engines droning around  him. An oversized blazer over his short stocky frame. A shirt, white, so bare you could see his skin clinging onto it. It was an off white, a white having been washed one too many times and not having been washed one too many times. His feet feel heavy, he is half dragging half lifting them as he moves.  The coat hanging on his sides like a curtain seem to have something heavy in their pockets. Or maybe they are just sagging from years of use. His trouser doesn’t match with the blazer.

Between the two; the blazer looks older. It has silver – brass buttons with an emblem inscribed on them. It looked like at some point it served it’s purpose. Like it hang on sturdy shoulders and graced fancy dinners before it was thrown out. Or given to the needy finding it’s way on a ship to Kenya. Here, it was sold as second hand.  He probably went to a few weddings in it. Nieces. Second cousins.  And he was part of the negotiations. Something about the way he walked, or looked at people show he commands some respect. He’s that uncle, not the rich one, just the one everyone listens to.

I wonder what kind of man he is, his shoes tell me a story. A troubled one; full of struggles and trials. A life unfair. A life that let the sun beat him into a hardened man. Dry boned and wrinkled. He doesn’t have the shoes that walk into a Java at Hurlingham at 4:23 pm for a latte and chocolate croissant or a home fry haven with an extra side of guacamole. Probably won’t know guacamole if you told him it was a fancy avocado dish.

At the end of the day while some people his age would be sitting round a table; phones facing down, ties loosened and ordering short glasses of single malts: he would be at some flimsy structure. With a woman who’s physique seems a little generous covering her assets with a leso.  He would order two tins of something and chug them down, barely flinching. It’s not like his face could afford anymore creases. And then he would walk home. To a wife and maybe some kids. The smell of cheap liquor would hang in that house like the stench of poverty. Or maybe that’s what poverty smells like.  And after a meal they’d go to bed. No rooms. Just a partition, made of cloth.

She had better shoes. Beige, flat and with a golden buckle. The black pants she wore hang delicately at her knees. She sat at a table. Alone. A white mac glaring back at her. Her white blazer folded to the elbow. The lapels were white with black polka dots. Her blouse a loose cream. In one hand a cigarette, sitting lazy between two slender fingers. Manicured. French. The other on the table with fingers dancing around the rim of a white cup. Steaming.

I had alighted and walked into a mall. Wanted to grab a quick cup of jo. It was one of those mornings; got up too early and beat the traffic. My eyes were heavy. With sleep. Third trimester. I knew I needed a double of something. Whisky. Vodka. Espresso. Or all three combined. I saw her when I walked in. She was sitting at a corner table. Eyes trained on her laptop screen.  Like a good dog.

Her face looks pampered, so it’s hard to tell her age she could be anything between 30 and 42. Also her eyes hid behimd black framed spectacles. Her shoes too look pampered. They see at least two different types of shoe products. They don’t stay out too long in the sun. They have minimal tarmac damage. And know what guacamole is. The hardest they’ve ever had to work was when she slammed the brakes just as a matatu driver cut her off in traffic. She probably cussed. But instead of it sounding crude and vulgar, it sounded sophisticated. Eloquent. Poised.

She was probably catching up on emails. Social media. And current affairs. She was planning the day ahead. The meetings and presentations. The time to squeeze in a quick salad for lunch. The traffic to beat to meet friends or that special friend at the club. And laugh the evening away on a balcony overlooking the city’s  skyline. Another cigarette definitely in hand and a cocktail glass in the same hand. She’d while the evening away just like the twirling smoke.

I walked out. Two espressos later.

She had light blue jeans. A blue that looked almost white. It was not faded just an off blue. She had orange doll shoes. And Abuja braids with a black blazer. Her blazer went up to her wrists but they weren’t long enough. I could see a tattoo. It was obscure but I could make out some of he detail. It was a pattern. Probably a flower or butterfly. On her left hand.

I was out for lunch. My budget 100 shillings. I had heard of a place close to where I work that sells food in that price range. So I went out to look for it. It wasn’t hard to find, the places never are. You could find one walking backwards blind folded in Lokichogio.  When I walked in and heard “Ciru haterere…” red flags should’ve been raised. Social media has been ablaze with badly cooked food. By bad I mean bad. Not time out bad but indefinite-suspension-bring-your-mother-to-school bad.  Experience has taught me to only go to kibanda’s with cooks hailing from the western side of Kenya.

Right after I got a plate with two potatoes. Potatoes bigger than my forehead garnished with peas and malnourished cabbage and three poverty strike pieces of meat. I knew I made a mistake. I wanted to tell her to take it back but she had eyes. That Ciru.  So I endured the suffering. The food didn’t even want to be eaten. It was hesistant. I swear it gave me the stink eye. I might have trouble later with my stomach.

The lady next to me seemed to be enjoying her meal. It was the same meal. Her shoes looked like they enjoyed a dance in a club in town. And had a rough time carrying her stumbling self home after a few pints. Maybe they walk up in a different shoe rack every other night. Hehe. See what I did?  Genius.

Like me, maybe she was entry-level somewhere; with a boyfriend in mid-level management. Loved a bit of the tipple.  A good time and had more drama than the food on my plate. She probably dumps her boyfriend every Monday and hook up again Thursday when she went to his place to get her stuff. Which would be a comb, two panties and a toothbrush.

I don’t know what I’ll see tomorrow. Or where my mind will go. But there’s this mama…

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