After the Volvo disappeared around the school block, I made my way to the cafeteria to grab a snack and hang out with friends. I made an effort to join the lively chitchat my friends were having but it was a vain attempt. I just kept playing possible scenes of what might have warranted the emergency hospitalization of Raj’s father. Since the next class for the day was late in the afternoon, I decided to head back to the hostels and do some laundry–a chore I really loathed. There was no one in our room when I got back and the place seemed so cold and desolate. I got my phone out and gave Raj a call. I was glad to hear the situation was not as serious as I had feared. His dad was in shock after a freak accident along Museum Hill road. I expressed my relief and promised to hook up later in the afternoon.
To my disappointment, the taps in our section were dry. I could hear taps running in the ground floor, so I reluctantly took a bucket to fetch the precious commodity. The scene was quite chaotic that I almost gave up. Girls chasing each other around, screaming like children. I put my bucket behind three that were yet to be filled and stepped back to wait. I took out my phone to get up to speed with goings-on of social media. Nothing of importance caught my eye so I put my attention back to the water politics. I was staring at the steady flow of water when this cold splash hit my back. I turned in time to meet the apologetic face of the culprit. She stood for a while with a hand over her mouth.
“I’m so sorry…that wasn’t intentional,” there was nothing I could do, so I just clicked and picked the now full bucket.
I lumbered up the steep staircase with the bucket, water occasionally spilling. It was so sapping that I decided it would be easier to do the laundry near the tap downstairs. They were still playing and giggling around when I got back. I unwrapped the bundle and got down to business. Soon after, the girls started leaving one by one, perhaps my presence bothered them. The one who had splashed cold water on me remained behind. I could see her shuffling about uncomfortably.
“Hey, can I help you?” I tried to be helpful.
“Yea, please help me hoist this bucket to my head.”
She bent on one knee as I lifted the bucket to her head. For a moment our faces were really up close and I could not help but notice how beautiful she was, I did not think much of it then. She thanked me and sashayed away with the bucket precariously balanced on her head, yet not a drop spilled. I was done with most lighter clothing and was remaining with jeans and some heavy jackets. I felt like stopping at that point. Unfortunately, they were already wet and there was no way I would store them for later washing. I scrubbed the jeans laboriously, regretting why I had settled for such tough material.
“It’s not good to wash Jeans using a brush, they’ll fade and get torn quicker.” It was the girl I had helped a few moments ago. I was so engrossed in my laundry and thoughts that I did not hear her approach.
“Well, this material is kinda tough,” I replied.
“But not too tough to warrant the use of a brush. Here, let me show you how to do it,” she offered.
I was relieved and let her show me what she meant. She made it look so easy, her soft delicate hands kneading the tough garment like it was fine silk. Meanwhile, I engaged her in small-talk and before long, she had done all the remaining laundry! I expressed my gratitude and promised to buy her lunch later in the day. She turned down the offer but I insisted and she gave in. Indeed, old men were not wrong when they said a goat will always protest even when it’s being dragged to graze. I took her number with a promise to call her later on.
After pegging the clothes to a line, I went back to complete some assignments. I had barely settled down to the assignment when my phone rang, Raj was on the line.
“Hello, are you in school?” he inquired.
“No, am in the hostels.”
“Oh, I thought you were around school, we are just from the hospital. Dad is stable so there is no point in skipping school. By the way, at what time is the next lecture?” He sounded positive.
“We? It’s at three pm, unless they change the schedule.”
“Yes, we, I am with Sonia. I don’t think it will change, what are you up to?”
“Nothing major, just finishing on the information systems assignments, you?”
“Now that you’ve mentioned it, I think we need to brainstorm together on that assignment. There are some questions am unable to answer.” He offered. The proposal was good enough, I was also having some difficulties.
“Fair point, you can drop Sonia at home and come over, or I can come over if that is too much.” I suggested.
“Am trying to avoid some guys here so I think I’ll come over, see you in a few.”
“Ok, I hope you know the place”
“I think I do, three blocks from the roundabout…blue building.” Raj’s memory was quite sharp.
“Cool, see you.”
The room was quite untidy but I did not have much time to clear the mess. ‘He’s a boy, he’ll understand’ I comforted myself. About three minutes later he texted me that he was already at the entrance. To say the least, I was surprised to see he was with Sonia.
“Er…hey guys, you’re welcome. Sonia it’s been sometime, how are you?”
“Sure, it has been a while. Am fine thank you.”
“She insisted on coming, said she’ll be bored at home alone.” Raj tried to explain, He’d obviously registered my surprise.
I told him it was alright and proceeded to explain to the gatekeeper that they were friends of mine. He nodded passively and we proceeded to the messy room. I invited them in as I tried to tidy it up.
“I hope you guys don’t mind the mess in here, haven’t had time to clean it up.”
The room had one reading table and two chairs, until that moment, I never thought they were inadequate. Besides, we were rarely in the room, and when we were, everyone would be on his bed.
I pulled back one chair for Sonia as I pointed Raj to the other. She mumbled her thanks and rearranged her sari as she gracefully sat. I picked a dirty coffee cup and an empty bread wrapper from the table to create more room. I could see Sonia snickering.
“You’ve never been to a boys’ room before have you?” I asked her as I put everything on the cupboard.
“Well, Raj’s room is more like this. But we always try to help him tidy it up.”
“You had to drag me into this Sonia, you just had to.” Raj tried to defend himself, pretending to be dismayed.
“What now, are you saying am lying?” She teased him.
“Who wants coffee?” I tried to change the subject.
“Am in” Raj replied immediately.
I looked at Sonia and raised my eyebrows inquisitively.
“Do I have a choice?” she asked, smiling.
“Actually not, so coffee it is.”
I pulled an electric water heater and a plastic water jug from under a pile of books. Both of them eyed the heater warily, like it was something dangerous. Perhaps the taped wires and broken handle made it look like a hazard.
“Dude, won’t that thing electrocute you?” Raj asked.
“Not really, its quite safe if you handle it carefully.”
The coffee was ready a short while later and we settled to doing the assignment. Sonia realized I needed the chair more than she did and she readily gave it up. She briefly walked about the room touching this and that but there was nothing much to see. In her forays, she stumbled on a novel I was reading.
“Whose is this?” She asked, holding up a copy of Sydney Sheldon’s Sands of Time.
“It belongs to a friend of mine,” I responded.
“Oh, I thought it’s yours, I would have borrowed it.” She said as she went over the synopsis.
“I can borrow it for you. I have about twenty pages to go, I should be done before our evening class…I’ll give it to Raj.”
“I’ll really appreciate that, I read Sheldon a lot and am a big fan of his.”
“Same here, his imagination is quite captivating.” I added. Raj was now tapping the table impatiently. I got my books and we worked on the assignments for some time. Sonia would occasionally chip in whenever we were stuck. She proved to be quite witty and funny. I really liked her company and would have wished to be with them a little longer. After about one hour we were through. Sonia picked up the cups and spoons we had used as she asked where our sink was. I tried to protest but she would have none of it. I directed her to the sink and in a short while she was back with everything cleaned up. She cleared a compartment of the cupboard and put the utensils there.
“You should use this space for utensils only, it’s hygienic not to mix them with other things.” She advised. I nodded knowing the space would be filled with other stuff before long. We chatted for sometime and Raj expressed their desire to leave.
“You should accompany us, your next class is late in the evening.” She offered.
“Thanks for the invitation, I would really love to, but there are some things I need to sort out.” I tried to be polite.
“He’s yet to recover from uncle Malik’s assault.” Raj joked.
“C’mon guys, he didn’t assault me, you’re the ones he rounded up like you were some naughty kindergarten children.” I retorted.
Both of them laughed as we made it out of the room.
“Uncle was quite irrational at that time, I think he we has in a bad mood.” Sonia said.
“Yea, he has a hot temper but it was really unfair for him to take out his anger on us.” Raj added.
“Enough of uncle Malik, thanks for the coffee Edwin, see you sometime.” Sonia said as she disappeared into their Volvo’s back seat. I nodded back in affirmation.
“See you later dude,” Raj said as he disappeared into the driver’s side.
“See you, be careful.” I shouted back as the car eased off the curb to the road.
I was almost forgetting that I had promised to take Christine (the lady who helped me with the laundry) out for lunch. I rushed back to the room, freshened up a bit and gave her a call. She said she would be ready in five minutes. I spent that time trying to think of an appropriate eatery. I settled for Milk Palace, a cozy and tidy establishment tucked away behind the noisy and chaotic Ngara streets. True to her word, Christine was at the hostel’s entrance in five minutes. I was not only impressed with her punctuality but also her dressing. She was clad in a slightly fitting black skirt, a purple blouse, and a delicately sewn black sweater. Purple suede-cloth flat shoes rounded off her ensemble in style.
“You look lovely, I like your sweater,” I complimented her and she blushed pleasantly.
“Thank you, am glad you do. You’re a sharp dresser too.” She responded.
“Thanks, shall we?” I replied as I extended my arm to indicate that we should be on our way. We made small talk as we headed for our destination. I learnt she was in her first semester at Pioneer, pursuing a Diploma in Tourism and Hotel Management. I thought she perfectly fit into the profession given her people-person demeanor. We had to cross a street to arrive at our destination. I took her hand and helped her across. Her palm felt unbelievably soft and delicate. I found it awkward to just let go of her hand after we had crossed the street, I could not think of a polite way to do it. So I just held it until I had to say hi to some patrons at Milk Palace, about 300 meters from where we had crossed the street. To my relief, the place was not as crowded as it usually was. I guided her to a corner table, pulled a chair for her, and went around to take mine. A waiter was already by our side.
“Can I bring you anything while you take a look at the menu?’
“Sure, thanks.” I responded as I nodded at Christine.
“I’ll have a glass of blended mango juice.” she said to him.
“And you sir?” he asked courteously.
“I’ll have pineapple juice.”
“Right away,” he said as he left.
I was a regular at the place so I did not need to go through the entire menu, I was pretty familiar with what they offered. Nonetheless, I cursorily glanced at it as I watched her pore over her’s. The waiter came back with our juices and took our orders. We both settled for Pilau, a delicious rice delicacy. We talked about our backgrounds as we waited for our order. She told me she was a first born and the only girl in a family of four children. Their second born was in high school while the third and fourth borns were in primary school. The waiter brought our food and we heartily set on it, but not before she insisted on saying grace. The food was really delicious and I was glad that she liked it. As we progressed with the meal, I filled her on my background as well. Christine was really fun to hang out with and I had a good time. I also liked the fact that unlike most girls of her age, she did not play around with food but ate quite well. The omnipresent waiter appeared from the shadows and cleared the table as soon as we were done eating. I settled the bill and we made our way back. She was having a class early in the afternoon so we did not have much time to hang around.
“Thanks for the meal, it was delicious. I have liked the place too.”
“Don’t mention it, am just paying back in kind.” I replied.
“Pay? Pay for what?” she asked.
“Oh, c’mon. I was just helping you out. Not to mention I was trying to make amends for the splashing incident,” she explained. This banter went on and in no time we were at the hostel entrance.
We stood in awkward silence for a while, each of us wondering how to part.
“Well, I’ve got to run now. I hope I’ll see you again sometime later.” She said twisting her fingers.
“Sure. I hope so too.” I told her as she turned and disappeared down the corridor, with a bouncy gait. I met the gatekeeper’s gaze as I slowly turned to take the flight of stairs to our section. He was smiling cunningly. I winked at him and disappeared up the stairs to our room. Johnny, a classmate who had recently relocated to our room, was busy watching some movie on his laptop when I went in.
I did not want to disturb him, so I just said hi and jumped to my bunk. I lay on my back and started to reflect back at that lunch date. The more I thought of her, the more I grew fond of Christine. For a moment, I thought I should really get serious with her but brushed away the thought, as it was too early to be sure if there was genuine chemistry between us. Besides, there was an obvious attraction between Sonia and me, only that I found it hard to make a move on her. I remembered I needed to get done with the novel so Raj could take it to her. I hanged precariously from my bunk and picked it up from Swaleh’s bed, where she had left it. The book had traces of her sweet floral fragrance. I took out the bookmark and proceeded to read from where I had stopped last. I tried to but found it hard to concentrate in reading the novel. Images of both Sonia and Christine kept crisscrossing my mind. I involuntarily found myself comparing them, trying to weigh each on the love scale. These thoughts, coupled with the day’s activities took a toll on me and I fell asleep.