Walter walked into The Grill as the guard opened the doors.
He had the Daily Nation newspaper with him. It was a Friday and the only reason he bought the paper was because of the many jobs that were advertised then. He was not a sports fan. He hated the pieces written on music and he didn’t care much about the lifestyle section.
He knew all about lifestyle by being a Waiter.
He had been waiting on tables for three years.
He had also dreamed of opening his own pastry shop in those three years, just as much as he had promised God and his mother that he would quit smoking. The good news was that he now brushed his teeth and washed his hands after he had smoked.
He went into the changing room and sat on the bench in the middle of the room and opened the “Jobs” section of the paper. He went through the adverts writing down those that interested him. After he had written three adverts, he folded the paper and put it in his bag and changed, ready to do his job and earn some tips. There were days he earned five hundred shillings and those that he earned nothing. Maureen, his colleague, often said that people in Nairobi were stingy with their money. She would scrunch up her nose and say that even bartenders earned more than they did- yet they served alcohol. Walter laughed whenever she said this because Maureen could put any heavy drinker to shame whenever she set out to drink.
He had seen her drink more than the group they were with at 1824- and still walk into the night as though she’d not tasted a drop of liquor. On the other hand, she never understood how he could smoke but could not stand the taste of alcohol.
Walter would smile and say “everyone chooses their poison.”
It was a lie though because he stopped drinking when he was in campus and received a call at four in the morning that his father was found dead in a trench. He was holding a bottle of whisky when the police found him. According to the police they saw it best to call him since he had his phone and he was the last person the man had called. He never told his mom or his girlfriend then, but he did not want to die in a trench covered with filth and dirt all in the name of alcohol.
He made his way around the restaurant setting the tables before attending the daily staff meeting with Saddam.
The doors were opened at quarter past seven and the customers started trickling in for breakfast. Walter worked but his mind was on Ruth. He hoped she would visit. She had not made it to the restaurant the whole week and he wanted to see her again, and maybe get her that glass of cold mango juice “on the house,” just to say thank you.
After his mid-morning break, he made his way to the Nakumatt supermarket to get some serviettes and tomato paste. Saddam was in one of his moods because their supplier was not answering his calls and had failed to deliver as he had promised. Walter was relieved to be running the errand because he wanted to smoke again. He had the feeling that she would show up today and he would not get the chance to talk to her.
Ruth walked into The Grill with two of her best friends, Nancy and Belinda. They sat down to catch up, as they waited to be served. She looked around but could not see Walter. Nancy ordered pilau rice and Belinda went through every item on the menu before settling for Nancy’s order and smiling at the lady who was serving them.
Ruth looked at the waitress and tried to read her name tag, but the writing was not clear, “what’s your name?”
“Thank you Maureen, I would like to know if Walter is around.”
“He will be here shortly. He is with the Manager.”
“Great, if he comes please let him know that his friend Ruth would like to say hi, and you can get me some chicken and rice while you are at it.”
“Okay.” They watched her walk back to the counter before Nancy leaned in and asked, “so you are friends with the waiter here? Is that why you dragged us here instead of Java?”
“You should see that guy. I know it sounds off, but I have the feeling that we have met.”
“Feeling ni wewe! You met him here and don’t go talking to us about dejavu because we know you…so, is he hot ama he’s kawa?”
“He’s hot! I wanted you to…you know, see him and tell me if he’s okay or not.”
“You just want us to tell you if he’s okay or you want us to be okay with you liking a Waiter?”
“That is rude Belinda, Waiters are people too.”
“Yes, that’s what you said about Steve, if I recall it was “Bartenders are people too,” and then when you found out he was serving other women too you could not stop crying about it, what is it with you and people who take orders and tips?”
“You will see him and then you will…gosh! He’s coming here, don’t look, act natural.” Walter smiled as he approached Ruth’s table grateful that he hadn’t given in to the urge to smoke because it might put her off. He could tell they had been talking about him because the other girls looked at him and then smiled back at Ruth as though giving their consent.
“It is good to see you again Ruth.”
“You too Walter. How are you today?”
“I’m fine thank you. It’s a pleasure to meet you Nancy and Belinda. Enjoy your lunch.”
He left the restaurant after wishing them well and lit a cigarette.