I’m sitting at a nice little cafe somewhere in the center of the town. It’s a small, quaint little town; one of those touristy places that has foreigners walking around in dirty sandals, feet dusty and unwashed, wearing “African print” that can only be the work of some bored Chinese screen-printer who downloads random stuff from the internet and converts it into the kind of kitenge material that impresses the wazungu who come to quaint little towns like this looking for the African experience.
Whatever that means.
In the distance, the hills rise gently, almost encircling the little town; a lush shield of green and brown set against the dazzling blue sky that’s holding a sun hot enough to form a hazy mirage on the narrow streets. The sun’s heat speak of the possibility of an afternoon shower, the kind that’s soft and sunny and filled with childhood tales of animals giving birth.
I sip my tea. African tea. Spicy and strong with just a hint of sugar to mask the taste of the watered down milk. I like this cafe, but sometimes they really test the strength of my patronage.
She walks in.
The sun has met its equal in radiance.
I smile at how ridiculously corny that thought is and close the book I was reading – a treatise on the macro-economic policies that dictate the true ebb and flow of soft power, specifically in relation to the inter-governmental relations between third-world countries and their more developed counterparts. Or something like that.
“Bellisima…” I say the words as I stand and reach out my hands. She embraces me.
She is everything I needed at this time.
“I thought we agreed that you’d stop with the cheesy names?” She speaks through her dazzling smile, breaking away from the hug and picking up my book. She has the slightest trace of a gap between her teeth. Kazigo, her people call it and it’s the most adorable thing ever. Then again, I am biased as f…
She flips through a few pages and laughs.
“Ian. Are you still reading this rubbish? These neo-colonial theories that you waste your time exploring will be the death of you. There are much better books that I can recommend that will be worth your while. And will definitely be more intellectually stimulating than this pedestrian fare that you lug around in the name of seeking knowledge.”
“Well…” I start mumbling as I sit down. I can never get used to this, as funny as it is. I’m thinking of a witty retort along the lines of “your mama” but she is already gesturing to the waitress and pulling up her chair.
“You look beautiful, Florence.” I put the book back in my backback, along with my other collections of pedestrian fare, tightly zipping the bag and leaning it against the wall behind me. If it were possible, the book would be more embarrassed than I am, mostly because it had been bought to impress her.
“Thank you, Ian.” She smiles and takes my hands in hers, looking into my eyes.
Eternity. In a fraction of a second. All is forgiven.
The waitress arrives, breaking my slice of heaven as she thrusts the tattered and worn single sheet of paper that they call a menu towards Florence, who impatiently waves it away.
“Black tea, no sugar, a slice of lemon and your freshest banana cake.”
The waitress strides off. I can’t tell if she’s in a huff or a puff.
“So.” I look at her expectantly.
“So…” Her response seems hesitant. Worrying even.
A lifetime passes.
The suspense is killing me, but I know she doesn’t like to be rushed. She bites her lower lip and stares off into the distance.
Dammit. Here we go again.
I’ve always believed that time plays tricks on us. And I call it The Ian State and it goes like this: Time is a sneaky, malicious and self-aware bastard. It knows exactly how long to last depending on the situation you’re in and it behaves completely differently for each person. Your time is not my time. And our time is not their time. Time exists in tiny pockets of chaos, structured at the quantum level to piss us off in varying levels. See, time will rush by when you’re having fun, and slow down when you’re doing the most boring thing imaginable, like Monday afternoon in high school, when the teacher always felt the time wasn’t enough during the Agriculture triple class and every single student was absolutely sure that the clock was lying or had stopped working. Except Agnes, who – as other students fled the classroom as soon as the bell rang – stayed behind to consult with the teacher because she felt the time wasn’t enough. When time messes with us like this, I call it the Ian State.
The Ian State is in full effect.
After what seems like ten thousand years (and one), Florence slowly looks back at me.
“Dammit, Flo. Are you going to…”
“I got the job! Ian, I got the bloody job!”
I knocked over my cup of tea.
An hour later, we are sitting on one of the outdoor couches in the backyard of the little cafe – did I mention I really like this cafe? – and she’s next to me, her head leaning against my shoulder, legs curled up on the couch, covered with a kikoi.
She smells good. It’s an eclectic mix of shampoos and lotions and oils and soaps that keep finding their way into my bathroom, displacing the one piece of Imperial Lather soap that I own that she claims never seems to get finished and whose smell constantly reminds me of my childhood growing up in the little estates on the fringes of the city where dad was a…
She smells good. The Ian State is in full effect and we are happy.
She got the job. After so much time… she got the job.
A new life awaits us, and tomorrow, we start packing our things, preparing for a journey into a brave new world. A journey to a new city, country and continent. In two weeks, we’ll get onto an airplane, both of us for the very first time, and cross the vastness of the oceans into a world that’s as alien as it is exciting.
Florence, my bellisima, has dreamt of this day since she was a little girl and to see her so excited about finally living her dreams…
I draw her close and kiss her hair.
She smells good. Time slows down.
She looks up and smiles.
Everything else stops and the world ceases to exist.
In that vastness of time, as she slowly falls asleep, I pick up the book from my bag and run my fingers across the cover.
“Foundation Economics of The Global South” by Florence Ninsiima.
She snuggles closer to me, and I wrap my arms around her as I quietly flip to page thirty four.
Our time is ours.