Ladies and Gents, part 7…..
As I walked up the cracked pavement, I remembered the games we played as children of avoiding the cracks and lines on the pavement. Subconsciously, I started stepping on the solid parts of the pavement. These streets were so familiar to me that I could easily walk them with my eyes closed.
I walked on and passed the old tree stump where Sammy had his shoe shine business for the last seven years. He was absent but in my minds eye, I could see him; diligently sitting there on his four-legged stool, with the pedestal for his customers’ shoes. Grinning and whistling and exchanging idle gossip with the regulars. Enterprising Mushembi had learned that selling newspapers was not as profitable as renting them out. Clever Mushembi would rent his newspapers to customers getting or awaiting their shoes being polished. He was absent too.
Opposite them was Harry’s record store that always played gospel music at such high volumes as if to scare the devil out of you. Distraught Harry waved as I looked up at him, I reciprocated but neither of us smiled. We were both burdened by our sorrows. I could tell Harry’s was the large gaping hole in his shop window and the missing goods.
I walked on. Next came Mike’s kinyozi shop. The establishment had gone from a seat under a tree to a barber shop that boasted of ‘electric razors’. I had known Mike ever since the first time he had explained his business plan to me in a matatu from town. He had shortly come looking to borrow some start up capital. I had politely declined, but Mike had a way with ‘requesting’ for money. He persistently hounded me for weeks before I gave in and lent him two thousand shillings which to be honest, I had not expected to see again; but five months into his business venture, Mike had approached me with four hundred and twenty seven shilling as his first instalment. He had even offered me a free hair cut but after tugging and pulling at it for twenty minutes we had both given up. That day we both learnt that Caucasian hair cannot be cut with a razor blade inserted in a comb, no matter how deep you go.
The glass window facing the street had been broken with stones just like Harry’s. Mike or someone had barricaded it with thin cheap planks of wood and tarpaulin sheets. The shop front was wet with water and I saw Bosco, Mike’s assistant, sweeping the water away. He looked up at me and smiled. His smile was like a torch in a dark room, radiant, blinding and wide.
“Jambo bwana Sammy” he said to me in greeting. Two years of knowing him and he still couldn’t get my name right. I responded with a wave and continued my lonely struggle while I pondered over his resilience in the face of the devastation to his masters business.
I turned the bend and looked up at the four most imposing outlets along the whole street. Between them, they made up an entire block. Khan’s Butchery, Smith’s Hardware, Patel’s Emporium and Mama Mercy’s grocery. All of them crowned with Hannah’s guest house.
Each of these establishments had memories attached to them; good, bad and informative, but memories nonetheless.
Khan the butcher’s son Junaid was personally responsible for more spoiled childhood’s than divorce in general. The school bully that he was, had also diversified to drowning rats, cats and other non-domesticated animals that inhabited these streets.
Smith’s Hardware shop was actually owned by Paul Adero who felt that an English name would give prestige to his business. Paul was probably more successful than any of his other neighbours because he ensured that his customers kept coming back. They came back to replace the taps that stopped working soon after the warranty expired or the heaters that got spoilt ‘because of the electricity fluctuations’ and the pumps that got clogged because of dirt. He was an ace conmen but his products were cheap and he was the only hardware vendor this side of the city.
Patel the fabric merchant’s daughter Anjali had been the dream of many a strapping young lad including myself. She and I had one very memorable summer which resulted in her brother with a broken nose and me with a broken arm and bragging rights for a fight in an extremely popular nightclub.
Mama Mercy’s grocery shop was extremely popular with the students. The large woman was extremely motherly and would enquire after each customer as her own child. She gave credit to all of us ‘mtotos’ and she would throw in something extra into your basket whenever you went shopping at hers. An apple, a pear, some carrots, anything extra that would ensure you left the shop smiling and with respect for her. She was definitely a mama with mercy.
Hannah’s guest house which occupied the entire top floor of the shops specialized in rooms by the hour as well as rooms by the night. She also housed a small den popular with underage drinkers, smokers and clandestine affairs.
Today the entire block was replaced by rubble, stones, metal and smoke. Everything had been razed to the ground. The rioters and looters had made their way with anything worth salvaging. The shops were no more. The small rooms above were no more. It was like the missing teeth in a jaw, an empty space along an uniform row.
Only one of the proprietors was present, Paul, who was probably already calculating how to apply for an insurance claim. I stopped and looked at the block as reflected on my individual memories. The destruction following the violence had hit home, yet I personally had more harrowing experiences and consequences to contemplate.
<<< To be continued >>>