He greeted me as he took the seat next to me in the dark theater. As usual, I thought of doing the snob thing and pretending that I had no idea what language he was speaking.
I muttered under my breathe making it clear that I did not want to engage in conversation with him. I clutched my handbag closer making sure it was zipped up and tried scooting away from him. Luckily the play started and so we didn’t have to talk anymore.
It was a hilarious play and after a while, I found myself laughing so much that I relaxed the grip on my handbag and forgot about the man seated next to me.
“It’s nice to see that you have a sense of humor.” This time he spoke in good, clear English that caught me by surprise.
“By the way I am Marto…Marto wa Ungem.”
“I’m Linda… um… from Kilimani.” I don’t why he felt the need to tell me that he was from Ungem or why I even bothered to tell him that I am from Kilimani.
Marto was relentless, I tried playing the part of the snob but he managed to get me chatting away. He was easygoing, unlike anyone that I had ever met. With time, I found myself wanting to impress him with my laid-back personality even if I had to fake it. On the other hand, a part of me wanted to distance myself and show him that we didn’t quite belong in the same social class. I wanted him to feel honored that I was talking to him but at the same time, did not want him to think I was stuck up. Marto wa Ungem evoked so many different emotions from me.
You see, I had lived at Kilimani for 2 years. Before that; I was a resident of the sprawling Eastlands area, a fact that I never disclose to people. I can speak sheng, probably not as good as he did but I can hold my own for sure. I had used in matatus almost all my life; do not let the Benz that I now drive fool you. Nonetheless, unlike most people who had grown up in the ‘right’, I had a lot to prove.
The elite society had expectations. I had to learn proper use of cutlery, dress properly, drive the right car, live in the right neighborhood oh and definitely get that gym and yoga membership. Nothing says bourgeois like keenness on fitness. You need to jog, go to the gym and at least do some yoga. I did everything to fit in. Nevertheless, this was not a very accepting society but I was determined and so I clawed my way into the society. I wanted to have everything that I never had growing up.
I guess that is why Marto wa Ungem intrigued me. He saw past the English accent that had taken me years to perfect. Perhaps he saw through the act.
After the play, I walked outside and stood waiting for him until I caught sight of him. Oh dear Lord, his dressing was appalling, tight jeans, a loose Bahamas looking shirt and Sahara boots. I stood there in my Jimmy Choo heels making sure that it was clear once again that I was not the kind of girl that he was used to. I have no idea why at that moment it was so important to me to impress Marto by showing him just how classy I was. Why did I feel the need to prove anything to a man I hardly even knew?
“Come, I’ll buy a cup of tea.” I hesitated for a while wondering why he thought he could afford to buy me anything. However, once again I was intrigued by Marto wa Ungem.I have to admit, his confidence had my heart doing back-flips that afternoon.
We walked outside and naturally I headed towards my car.
“Let us walk and then you can come pick your car afterwards.”
I looked at Marto wa Ungem incredulous. He must have noticed that my Jimmy Choos were 6 inches high. I had spent a fortune getting those babies. I looked at him already walking out of the parking space and decided to be real with myself. I did have a pair of Bata Ngoma in the trunk of car somewhere. I always get them out when in places where my Jimmy Choos can never reach.
It’s amazing how relaxed my feet felt when in the comfortable shoes. They were unsightly but the relaxation was priceless. I caught up with Marto and down the road; we walked like two old friends. He talked all the way, telling me random jokes that had me in stitches. He had all these stories from his life that made me feel like I had led quite a boring life. For instance, we came upon a small stream which reminded him of mud slides and swimming in quarries as a child. He was an animated narrator and just looking at his hands and face as he told the stories was enough to crack me up.
We stopped several times as he explained random facts to me. He had these theories that I am sure would have made my friends roll their eyes at the absurdity. For instance, he kept telling me about being one with nature every time our feet hit the ground and connect with the dirt and pebbles underneath. He also had a theory about experiencing life as opposed to going through life. At some point, we came upon some sunflowers and he gave me one. That was Marto I guess, so simple.
We came upon a mabati structure and I hesitated as I watched Marto confidently walk in. It was not well lit and the ceiling was darkened by soot making the place look darker. However, it had small wooden tables and benches that looked clean and neatly arranged.
“Chapati mbili and chai,” Marto ordered without even asking me what I needed.
We sat for a while before our order arrived. The tea was served in large enamel cups with the chapatti rolled up and held in place with a fork. Without hesitation, Marto dug in and went on with his stories and so I took my first bite of the chapatti. It was heavenly. I had stopped taking all wheat products since apparently wheat is full of calories that like settling around the belly region and in my society, you cannot be seen walking around with a ‘muffin’ top’. Soon, I asked for another chapatti, not worried about belly fat anymore.
“Manze si ulikua ubao!” Marto teased me.
I found myself talking to him about my childhood. He was delighted although shocked to find out that I grew up in Eastlando. We talked and laughed and in no time, my English accent was forgotten. I can’t remember even laughing so hard. He reminded me of so many things especially about the woman I once was. I have worked hard for the life that I now have so I can’t regret living in a nice house or driving my beloved Benz but I couldn’t help but wonder if at some point I had lost myself in pursuit for the wonderful life and in an effort to fit in.
We walked back to the theater after the sun had gone down and darkness had crept on us. As I got into my car and watched him walk to the matatu stage, it struck me that I would probably never see him again. The impossible had happened and two worlds had met albeit briefly but at the end of the day, we all had our lives to live and I especially had an appearance to maintain.