“Do you remember…?”
Kuria glanced at the woman perched on the stump in the middle of the clearing. She had a new red kanga tied around her hips. Her green blouse, made of soft silky fabric, clung to her curves. She’d covered her hair, that glorious long dark mess, hidden with a green headscarf. He couldn’t see her face because she was staring at the green grass at her feet. She held a stick, poking at the ground as though searching for answers in the soil nourishing the green blades.
“Do you remember we used to come here when we were kids?”
Nostalgia clung to her words; brought back memories.
“I remember,” Kuria said with a wistful smile. “I remember you never covered your hair those days.”
She chuckled, poking at the grass faster.
“I had time to play with a comb then. These days I’m too busy.”
“Busy is a state of mind, Shiro.”
Kuria shifted, pressing his back against the rough trunk of a tall tree. Hundreds grew around them. He stuck a blade of grass between his teeth and stared up at the waving branches above. The sun sifted through, rays of light falling on the stump in the middle of the clearing, highlighting Shiro. It looked like a natural spotlight.
She paused in her poking to glance at him.
“Are you going to tell me why you called me?” she asked. “I left githeri cooking on the jiko.”
“You always have githeri cooking.” Kuria scowled. She never invited him to eat it. “Who are you cooking for this time?”
“The house is full of people. Stop worrying about my githeri. What do you want to tell me?”
“I went to the shopping center to get charcoal earlier.” Kuria threw the blade of grass on the ground and crossed his arms against his chest. “I heard you were seen there with Chege. Are you two together now?”
“You’re like a woman. Why do you listen to gossip?”
“Is it true Chege bought you mangoes from Mama Nora, or not?”
“The mangoes looked good.”
Shiro tossed her stick and sat up straight, a frown dancing on her forehead.
“So he bought you mangoes?”
“Ah ha,” Shiro said with a nod. “What’s wrong with eating mangoes?”
“I bring you avocados from my mother’s tree and you sell them, but you ate the mangoes, didn’t you?”
“Chege paid good money for them,” Shiro said as though that should make sense.
The woman was going to drive him insane.
She just didn’t see the point.
“I don’t want you to eat anything Chege buys you again.”
“Did you hear me?”
Shiro stood up, her hands on her hips.
“You’re going mad, Kuria. You can’t stand there and dictate what I can or can’t eat. Who died and made you my master?”
“I’m warning you.”
“Warn away,” Shiro said. “Keep going and I will go find Chege and tell him to buy me all the fruits in the market.”
“I’ll kill him.”
“Then you’ll go to jail,” Shiro said. “Anything else you wanted to say?”
Kuria fumed, annoyed by her innocent expression. She had no idea how mad she got him. How angry he was that she dared talk with that Chege.
Why couldn’t she see how he felt about her? Why didn’t she care?
He thought about the avocados he took to her house. Three afternoons ago, he’d climbed the avocado tree behind his mother’s house and spent two solid hours picking each fruit with care. The trick with avocados was not to drop them from the tree. They bruised easy. Bruised avocados turned to rot.
Yes, he’d carefully picked each fruit, and hauled two large baskets down the tree. He’d taken one to his mother, the other he’d kept for Shiro.
She’d thanked him with a smile. Ah that smile…, he glanced at her face now. That smile was missing. She didn’t grace him with her smile too often, so when she’d smiled at him that day, he’d felt like he had won the lottery.
Yesterday, he’d gone to take milk to the dairy and he’d heard the women there talking about Shiro’s avocados. Shiro had sold all the avocados he’d given her. It had hurt to know she hadn’t even tried to eat one.
“If you’re going to scowl at me, I’m going home.”
Shiro’s irritation was clear and he pushed off the tree when she started to leave.
“Why did you sell my avocados? I brought them for you and your siblings to eat. Why sell them?”
“You brought a basket full. They would have gone bad in the house.”
“They weren’t ripe. You could have divided them and—
“I don’t like eating avocados.” Shiro sighed. “Don’t you have a fruit you don’t like?”
“No.” Kuria fumed. “You used to eat them fine when I gave you a slice over at our place.”
“That’s because I didn’t want to disappoint you.” Shiro shivered. “I don’t like the taste very much.”
“What kind of excuse is that? If you don’t like something just say it,” Kuria said confused. “Did you sell all the avocados?”
Shiro nodded. “I sold them all.”
Kuria scoffed and shook his head. “So much for my efforts.”
“Don’t look so disappointed. I used the money to buy this kanga. Do you like it?”
Kuria looked at the red kanga.
“My old one was fading.” Shiro smiled and his heart jumped, the beat racing. Shiro’s smile had that effect on him.
“What do you think?” Shiro prompted, touching the red kanga.
“It looks good on you,” Kuria said, clearing his throat with a slight cough. He liked this pleased smile on Shiro’s lips. He wondered what else he could do to bring it back. “I can bring you more avocados if you like.”
“Will you?” Shiro asked in surprise.
“Yeah,” Kuria said thinking his mother wouldn’t notice one basket missing.
“Are you going to get mad if I don’t eat them?”
“No, as long as you don’t sell to Chege.”
Shiro laughed and turned to leave.
“I’m going to finish cooking my githeri. You’re welcome to come and eat it, if you like.”
Kuria grinned because that was the first time she’d ever invited him to eat her githeri. She left the clearing in quick strides, glancing back once to wave at him. He stared at the stump where she’d sat, and smiled.
Yes, he remembered. He remembered every time Shiro met him in this clearing. Every laugh, every smile, and every argument they’d had.
One of these days, Kuria thought, he was going to propose to Shiro right here, and she was going to say yes.
githeri – popular beans and maize traditional dish
kanga – colorful wrap