Valentine’s Day the Kenyan Way
I remember it being a Tuesday afternoon. A warm, lazy breeze
was blowing, gently swaying the leaves and branches on the trees by the
pavement, which provided no shade. In the January heat, I felt sweat begin to
bead on my skin under my shirt and jacket as the sun burned my eyes. The
heaviness in the air was almost promised a spell of rain later that night. On
my way to a business meeting across town, I wiped the sweat that was beginning
to form on my brow and cursed the person who deemed it necessary to wear suits
Through squinted eyes, I saw her. In a hurry, she walked out of the offices across from my place of work and started a steady trek up the road to a busy corner full of vibandas, where the women running them were serving up fragrant plates of githeri, cooking ugali and cabbage with thick arms scarred by years of working over open fire and steaming pots. Some expertly flipped big sheets of soft white dough over blackened skillets to make chapatti, splashing some oil over 3 or 4 of them at a time. Vendors stood by them, some standing behind a small grill, roasting maize that you could buy plain or covered in bright red chili and lemon juice. Others were manning little white carts, where they were serving up sumptuous smokies and boiled eggs.
I sometimes frequented these same vibandas and vendors for lunch, but I had never seen this lady before. She was elegantly dressed, in a navy blue skirt suit and a pair of leather high heels. I watched as she walked towards one of the smokie vendors with determined swiftness, the expression on her face unchanging. Her hair was pressed as flat as a coin, and her dark skin glowed in the bright yellow sun. She made her purchase quickly and walked back to the building she came from, disappearing into the cool, shaded compound with a click-clack of her heels. I started walking to my appointment, kicking up dust that coated my polished shoes with every step that I took.
The next afternoon, I felt a hankering for something hot and homemade. I was sick of packing sandwiches for lunch- cold, processed lunch meat between two sad slices of white bread would do nothing for the hunger I was feeling that afternoon. It was a little bit cooler- the Nairobi heatwave had subsided and there was a cool breeze blowing, so I walked down the road to the vibandas with one of my colleagues. We were in no hurry to get back, so we walked at a languid pace, making casual conversation on the future of Aresenal FC. That’s when I saw her again, at the same smokie stand that she was at the day before. Breaking away from my co-worker without apology, I walked over to stand by her side.
“One smokie please.”
“Make that two.”
“I’m not paying for two”, she said, begrudgingly.
“I know,” I replied, “Which is why I’m paying for both.”
She turned to me fully and the corner of her lip curved into a smile. I had never been this close to her, and she was absolutely breathtaking. Flustered, I cleared my throat and asked her name.
Every afternoon since, we’d have lunch together, and each day she’d linger with me just a little bit longer before I walked her back to her office. We never ran out of things to talk about, and with Valentine’s day approaching, I struggled with the thought of getting her something that would subtly show how fond I am of her. We hadn’t been seeing each other for long, so I didn’t really know what she would like. So I went online and pored over endless articles to see what I could get her. After my extensive research, I concluded that a gift hamper would be the best thing to get her. Just as I was asking myself where I would buy one, I stumbled on www.e-mart.co.ke, and with such a large array of choices I was able to pick out one that I thought she’d like. I scheduled it to be delivered to her office on Valentine’s Day.
On Valentine’s Day, I got a call that the hamper that I had ordered had been delivered. Just as I got back to work, one of my colleagues passed by my desk and told me that there was a package for me with the receptionist. I went to get it from her desk, and immediately I opened it up, I knew who it was from.
At noon, I left the office to go for lunch as I had been doing for the past few weeks. I found her already waiting for me at the smokie cart. She turned to me and asked,
“What took you so long?”
“I had a lot of stuff to finish at work before I left.”
She nodded and looked at me, smiling the same way she did when we first met.
“I got your gift,” she said. “I hope you got mine.”