Ruth had lunch at The Grill for the next three days.
She had pilau on Monday, chicken stew and some chips on Tuesday and then she had a cup of coffee and mandazi on Wednesday. She was served by Maureen for those three days. When she walked into the restaurant on Thursday, it was Walter who approached her table.
“Hi, I haven’t seen you around, are you okay?”
“Yes, I had exams so I took some days off, but it’s good to see you too.”
“Exams? What are you studying?”
“I am getting my diploma in Food and Beverage, so I have to get that done before I get my degree. Um, so before my Supervisor gets on my case for taking too long with you, what will you have?”
“Um, actually I’m good, I just wanted to see you and say hi, but just get me a soda and then maybe that’s okay.”
“Sure, which one?”
“Sawa, and kubwa ama ndogo?”
“Kubwa! Ndogo ni hasara!”
“I’ll get it right away.”
He moved on to other tables after serving Ruth and then went back to the counter to wait for the next client who would walk in. Thursdays were slow days. He made less on Thursdays, but he could always count on the old civil servants who always told him to keep the change. The men loved to let him keep the coins, but the women did tip better especially when they were with their friends. He lived for Valentines and the end of the month- dinner parties where the men actually gave him a fifty or hundred shilling tip to impress their dates.
He inched closer to Maureen and smiled at her. She stuck her tongue out and they both laughed.
“So, have you asked for her number ama unangoja Yesu arudi?”
“Eish! She is cool, nasikia you served her while I was away, thanks!”
“Wacha kujichocha! Huyo dame akiingia hapa anaangalia majamaa wote ni kama utatokelezea! Go get her number, ama ni game ndiyo hauna? Si nadhani unaishi uplands ama wajakushow how to get a girl?”
“Why must you talk like that?”
“Oh! So now you can act polished kama viatu za Rudisha! Haya basi kama umeng’aa enda ukamshow ni vipi!”
“I know, it’s the only way I can stand being a Waitress in a country where people think ati ten bob ndiyo tip!”
“Haiya! Na si uende majuu!”
“We! Napenda maisha yangu, sitaki nitemewe mate ama nichomwe na sigara sababu mimi ni servant, tu juu ya mkwanja!”
“You need help Maureen, like seriously, you need Jesus!”
“Who tells you I don’t have him? I am saying the truth, and who loves the truth more than that guy?”
“She’s done let me show you how it’s done.”
He took the bill from the cashier at the counter and jotted down his number at the back then took it to her. Maureen shook her head and smiled. She always seemed to have moments with Walter. They hang out, and she even managed his Facebook page for him and helped deliver and market his cookies, mandazis and doughnuts in her neighborhood. There was that moment when he had asked about her life when they were having lunch. The truth spilled out of her mouth so easily that it shocked her. When she looked at him, he’d just smiled and told her, “you’re tough.” It was not like she had a bad life, but she’d been through some very bad stuff and to have Walter smile at her like that reminded her that she was human.
He had his own kind of cool, and even though she’d never tell him- she still hoped that maybe one day they’d hook up, or that he’d stop and kiss her, like that chick in Sauti Sol’s new jam, Isabella, who surprised her guy by kissing him.
She longed for a kiss like that from Walter.
On the other hand, Walter felt like he was setting himself for a huge disappointment by giving Ruth his number. Maybe he was reading the wrong signs from her, but if Maureen saw it too, then maybe he’d give it a shot.
He wished her well as she left the restaurant. He continued with his work until his lunch break. He rushed to the changing rooms to switch on his phone and check for messages or missed calls, but when he turned it on- there was nothing but Airtel reminding him of his Smartika bonus, something about walking to work when he could be driving. He switched it off, pulled the pack of cigarettes he had and picked two.
He was walking out when he bumped into Maureen and dropped his cigarettes. She picked one as he reached for the other.
“What’s up? You never smoke during lunch, nani amekuchokoza?”
“Usimind, so what are we having for lunch today?”
“Saddam amesema ni machefs watadecide, kama ni kabeji I swear nitaingia huko ndani niwatusi wote!”
“Okay, see you then, I need to clear my mind…”
“And cloud your lungs! You are too cute to smoke you know!”
“Yes, isn’t that why most adverts on those fancy magazines have pictures of fine women and handsome men holding cigarette packs, and name one artiste you love who does not smoke…and no, weed does not count as smoking…I am talking cigarettes! Real cigarettes!”
“Go clear that mind of yours and join me for lunch…and Walter?”
“Yes Maureen, what is it?”
“Look…listen, she will call, okay. If that chick is into you she will call, just you know…don’t kill yourself with cigarettes before you give her a chance, just saying!”
“See you Maureen.”
“See you in ten minutes Walter, and I said ten minutes!”
“Sawa, that’s five minutes for each cigarette! It’s not enough!”