Conflict of Interests
I was attempting to cross the street to the hostels, oblivious of oncoming traffic. Some men in the small crowd that had gathered abused me hysterically.
“Stupid boy! What were you even thinking?” One scorned.
“Perhaps he was trying to commit suicide,” another quipped.
“Let’s give him a beating,” another voice advised.
At this moment, I was swimming in a state of semi-consciousness. While I could hear the speakers’ voices, I was unable to make out their faces. Everything appeared in a haze. None but the old lady who runs a food kiosk near the hostels seemed to notice this state I was in.
“Hey, leave him alone, clearly he is not in his normal senses,” she told them off.
“My son, come here” I followed the direction of her voice not knowing what else to do.
“Look at me, look at me!” she commanded while shaking me by my shoulders.
“What is wrong? Are you ok? Come, sit here.”
I was glad for this invitation because I really needed to clear up my head. I sat on one of the wooden benches in her kiosk as she poured me a cup of hot uji. It was getting cold, so I Gladly took the cup and held it with both hands—like it contained some sort of life-giving concoction. I noticed I was trembling slightly, so I held the cup even tighter.
I took a sip of the hot thick liquid and raised my head, only to meet her steady inquisitive gaze.
“You can talk to me, what has happened to you?” she cajoled.
Her kind gesture almost made me tell her what had actually transpired but new customers came in and she left to serve them. I gulped the porridge before she could have the chance to interrogate me further. She was getting busy as people, mostly students from nearby schools, poured in. Among several food kiosks in the area, we preferred her’s because of her friendly persona, delicious food, and pocket-friendly prices. I walked over to where she was and earnestly thanked her for her kindness while extending a fifty-shilling note to pay for the uji.
“Don’t worry about that my son. Am sorry we did not get to talk about your problem. We will do so another day. Can I pack some supper for you?”
She had already done enough for me, so I politely turned down her offer and begged to leave.
“Be careful when crossing the road,” she shouted behind my retreating back.
I showed her a thumbs-up in affirmation and made my way through the crowded passage, heading to the hostels. Traffic had built up but I was now in full control of my senses and expertly weaved between cars.
My roommates, Jimmy, Rashid, and Swaleh, were sprawled on the floor of the room we shared, taking their evening meal of ugali, meat, and sukuma wiki—from paper bags. Now, that was a usual scene throughout the boys’ quarters. It’s not like we lacked utensils, but we just found it cumbersome to go looking for plates and cups from places such as—but not limited to—under beds, chairs, behind doors, on top of cupboards (you had to stand on a chair to get there) and god-knows-where-else.
“Aye bro, you’re welcome to join us,” Swaleh invited.
I was quite full. The uji from Mama Karis (the lady from the food kiosk) plus the food from Raj’s place were yet to be digested. So I politely turned down the offer and jumped to the top bunk of the bed I shared with Swaleh.
“Where are you from? It’s not usual of you to turn down an offer for food.” Jimmy remarked.
The rest, including myself, could not help but burst out in hysterical laughter. I explained I was from Raj’s birthday party and so I was quite full.
“No wonder,” Rashid commented.
“Now that you could not find it in your heart to tag any of us along, what have you brought as a consolation?” Swaleh managed to ask with his mouth stuffed.
“Get serious Swaleh, you expected me to stuff food into paper bags?”
“What are we eating from, China plates?” Rashid joined the taunting.
This humorous atmosphere helped me relax but none of them could let me off the hook until I promised to foot the room’s breakfast bill for the next three days.
On glancing at my mobile phone’s screen, I realized Raj had sent a text message about 30 minutes earlier. “Am really sorry for the humiliating experience bro. That man is my uncle Malik, he probably thought you were courting Sonia.”
“It’s ok, perfectly understood” I typed a response.
“No you haven’t, I can sense that.”
“C’mon Raj, I have. He probably thought so because you weren’t with us.”
“Yea, probably. But he’s a bit strict and overprotective.” He replied
We chatted some more and Raj told me his dad and mom got agitated after his uncle painted the scene quite dramatically—Sonia cavorting with some Black Kenyan boy while he provided security. They had calmed down afterwards given they were aware of the forgotten handkerchief, coupled with Raj’s assurances that nothing of the sort happened.
I was getting drowsy so I bid Raj goodnight and reminded him to pass my apologies to Sonia, for the trouble I had got her into.
The commotion of everyone getting ready for morning classes roused me from the deep morning slumber. I had a quick hot shower, and then bought breakfast for all of us, as I had promised the previous day, before rushing to school for the morning class. The lecturer was already in class, so I quickly settled. I looked over at my immediate neighbor’s notebook and realized they had taken notes about half a page. I left a similar portion blank, making a mental note to update it later (which I rarely did). The class was over a few minutes later. I spotted Raj on the far right side of the class, near the door. He must have come early, you had to be an early-riser to get a seat anywhere in the first five rows. He remained seated, passing occasional greetings to exiting classmates. I made my way to where he was and sunk in the next empty seat.
“Hey, am surprised you don’t have any swollen eyes” I joked, softly meeting his raised fist with mine (a form of greeting)
“Ha ha! It wasn’t that serious. Though Sonia has a flushed cheek,” he responded.
“Am sorry to hear that, I hope she didn’t curse me for it.”
“Actually, quite the opposite happened. She was very defensive of you when mom advised her to be careful with boys…especially those from other ethnicities.”
“Oh, really?” I was genuinely surprised. “How so?” I prodded him.
“Well, she expressed her disapproval of the overboard censuring and advises to be careful with boys”
Raj hooked his index fingers in the air over the word ‘boys,’ so I knew he was referring to Black boys. We had talked about this before—how girls from the Kenyan Indian community are prohibited from having close associations with Black boys. That they we are not trustworthy, have different customs, and other negative things.
“Wow, must have been quite a tirade,” I said.
“Yea, but mom just told her she’ll understand when she gets older,” He added.
“So what about you, do you think we are as bad as your mom says?”
“Well, I don’t believe there is a race or ethnicity that is universally good or bad, it goes down to the individual level,” he answered thoughtfully.
“That’s quite philosophical. Are your parents hard on boys too?…about dating Blacks”
“Thinking of it…” he broke mid-sentence to retrieve his ringing phone.
“Excuse me, I’ve got to take this, it’s my mom.”
I nodded affirmatively and he went on to answer the the call.
Things did not seem well at other side, his face had suddenly assumed a worried expression. He was trying hard to hear what his mom was saying.
“Dad?…Where?…What happened?…Look here mom, I can’t hear you clearly…am on my way there.”
“What happened? Is everything all right?” I tried to inquire, sensing whatever news he received were not good.
“It’s my dad; he’s in Guru Nanak hospital. I have to rush and find out what happened. Talk later.”
With that, he was off in a rush. I tried to catch up with him but he was already reversing the old Volvo by the time I got to the parking lot. The main gate was open because someone had just driven in, so Raj flew out honking some people out of his way. I stood there with his books, hoping nothing serious had happened to his dad.