Buying a Leather Jacket by Timothy Kyalo
Mutuma clutched his backpack and dodged the cars as he crossed Landhies Road. He intended to pass through Machakos Country bus station on his way to Gikomba market. The traffic was heavy and moving quite slowly. The prices at Muthurwa Market, which dealt with newer cloths, had been outrageously high. Just as he had crossed, a short burly man approached him.
“Ni Kisumu, Kakamega ama Migori?”
“Zii,” Mutuma said, shaking his head. He was not going to any of those places.
“Basi nishow unaenda wapi naeza kukuonyesha boo yenye inalipisha poa bro,” the man said following after him as he went past the gate to the bus station.
“We achana na mimi, najua place naenda,” he said, giving the man a stern look. He knew where he was going and definitely had no time to be shown buses charging discounted fares. The man shrugged and left him alone. Mutuma hated meeting these touts who always followed any bag-carrying individuals near the bus station trying to sell bus tickets to them, especially for buses heading to Western Kenya.
He walked past the Matunda and the Eldoret Express buses, dodging the hand carts and matrons carrying sacks of vegetables, most likely sourced from up country and meant for the Nairobi market. He navigated his way through a group of touts arguing over what bus was next in the bay, past the Mwingi Liner buses and the hawkers’ stalls. He bent on one side to avoid knocking down a tray of bananas a hawker was carrying and almost knocked a passer-by. He reached the other gate and joined the rough dusty road leading deeper into Gikomba market and Majengo.
“Mia, bei mia, mia, bei ya kutupa.” He turned to look at a man ruffling through a bunch of shirts, occasionally picking one and holding it out in display then dropping it and ruffling through the bunch with swift dexterity. ‘100/-’ was boldly written on one side of the large upside-down box where his wares lay. The man chorused the price. Mutuma felt an urge to go and take a look at the shirts but decided against it. He was not here to buy shirts.
He proceeded past the bridge and glanced at the mucky water flowing in the Nairobi River. It had a vivid dark green appearance. He remembered watching the Nairobi Metropolitan minister in the news a few months before, saying that his ministry would do such a thorough cleaning of the river that he would swim in it. Mutuma sighed. Cleaning the river would be a daunting task, since there was virtually no sewage system in this area. Some young boys dressed in dirty, greasy oversize trousers and shirts were wading their way across the river, collecting plastic bottles and paper bags floating on the water.
“Shenzi! Toka kwa roadi.” Mutuma stopped to give way to the shouting man who was pushing a handcart laden with sacks. Sweat was streaming down his face and his bare back and he was panting heavily, like an ox pulling an incredibly heavy plough. He was biting his lower lip and Mutuma could see foam building on the sides of his mouth. The smell of sweat that hung around him was overwhelming. The sacks most probably contained potatoes. A portly matron was following closely behind, urging him to hasten his pace. A greasy money bag hung around her waist. He watched the duo pass by then proceeded after them.
Mutuma scanned the wares the hawkers were displaying on box stands that lined the road. Shirts, coats, trousers, jumpers, bras, panties, t-shirts, pairs of socks; no leather jackets yet. The hawkers were shouting their prices and beckoning at the people bustling past their stands.
“Costumes na one finje, one finje bei one fifty bob pekee,” a man was chorusing hoarsely, waving a set of ladies’ swimming costumes. Mutuma glanced at the costumes and felt his chest grow heavy, as though it had been overinflated. He remembered Kate in her red swimming costume, the very first time he had seen her at Nyayo National Stadium swimming pool. They were both participating in an intercollege swimming competition. He could bet that she was the most beautiful chick he had ever seen in his life. He had immediately wanted her. How could she turn him down simply because he didn’t own a leather jacket? He loved her, dreamt about her, fantasized about her for days on end.
Their first and only date had been at Savanna Coffee Lounge, where he had never been before. He had suggested the venue, with the intentions of impressing her, after he had succeeded in getting her to go for a date with him. The date had been going on great, at least, as far as he was concerned.
“Wow, this is a great place.”
“Yeah, nothing would be too good for you honey.”
“I appreciate that.”
He was happy that she appreciated it. He had then breathed in deeply then exhaled loudly.
“Aki Kate I love you.”
Then a guy of almost the same height and build as Mutuma had come in. He donned a black cowboy leather jacket. He had hesitated at middle of the room and looked around, probably searching for a place to sit.
“Hey, that guy looks great in that jacket,” she had observed, and by coincidence or at least according to Mutuma, the guy had turned to see her looking at him. He had walked straight to their table.
“Hi, I’m Ambrose.”
“I’m Kate, and he’s Mutuma.”
He didn’t like being introduced, but did not object. He couldn’t let small technicalities ruin his date, could he?
“Can I join you guys? Ama you are into something serious?”
“Aah, not really, just make yourself comfortable,” Mutuma had said, trying to be a gentleman. He now regretted those words more than anything else. Ambrose had then proceeded to make himself ‘comfortable’ at their table.
Mutuma remembered how she had giggled at each and every of Ambrose’s jokes, patting his shoulders affectionately. Each giggle had been to Mutuma like a thorn pricking his heart; quite literally. Five times she had told him that he had a great leather jacket. A whole five times! He flinched at the memory. At the end of it all he had ended up footing the bill for the trio. He didn’t want to appear broke, at least not before Kate and neither did he want Ambrose to know that he was mad at him for ruining a date he had so much looked forward to. He shuddered. The bill had dealt him a thorough financial blow that he hadn’t quite recovered from. Worse, Kate now dated Ambrose.
“Jacket na bei poa, jackets hapa, kamu uckeki.” A lady’s voice interrupted his thoughts. He turned to look at a stall where a lady was selling jackets. Several jackets hung on their hangers at her stall. He took a sweeping look at the jackets, searching for a black leather jacket.
“Karibu brother,” the lady said, motioning him with her hands to visit the stall. “Which one do you like, ni price poa,” she said, her English words possessing a very refined dialect. It reminded Mutuma of a recent Workers’ Union report on university graduates becoming hawkers due to lack of job opportunities.
Mutuma hesitated to give way to a passing man then proceeded to the stall. A vivid scent nestled around the stall, the kind associated with second hand cloths. Two jackets caught his attention. He approached them, studying them carefully from each angle. He took turns rubbing their material between his thumb and index finger to determine the quality. He then proceeded to check the pockets and the edges, moving his hand lightly over the hems.
“Ziko poa ama?” she said, more in a statement than a question.
“How much is this,” Mutuma asked pointing at the one with hanging laces.
“That one…eeh…” she said pointing at it again. “Hiyo ni eeh.. seven fifty.”
“Woah! Seven fifty bob!” Mutuma gasped, feigning surprise.
“Basi ukona ngapi?”
“Four fifty bob,” he said shrugging and making as if to leave but of course, it was a bargaining tact. “Seems I have to search elsewhere.”
“Just come, hebu just come. Add two hundred bob and take it”
“I can only add a hundred bob.”
“Then add one fifty bob to make it six soo”
“Five fifty final! Mwisho.” He hoped that she couldn’t notice that behind his carefully choreographed façade of severity was a man in emotional turmoil. He hoped that she would take his offer. He could not afford to leave without the leather jacket, what with Kate at stake?
“ Basi leta, but next time come with enough money,” she said with a smile then took the jacket and wrapped it in a piece of newspaper. Mutuma removed five hundred and fifty shillings from his wallet and gave the money to her. He picked the jacket and put it slowly in his back pack.
“Asanti, thanks, thanks very much,” he mumbled, patting his back pack with gentle strokes.
He turned to retrace his path, with a smile developing on his face. He could feel his world expanding. He saw Kate patting his shoulders, caressing his cheeks, nestling against his chest and kissing him. Yes, kissing him. He couldn’t hear the din anymore, couldn’t see the dirt around him anymore, couldn’t see the people he bumped against, all he saw was Kate and himself, locked in a passionate embrace.
Timothy Kyalo graduated from Mang’u High School in 2008. He will be pursuing a degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering beginning October 2010. The Young Writers’ Project-Nairobi 2010 forms his very first serious work in creative writing. He possesses a great passion in this field and hopes that he will be able to challenge, educate and entertain the society through his work. firstname.lastname@example.org