Walking Away

Walter looked at the bag he’d set on the table. It was black and empty. There were three t-shirts and a pair of jeans next to it. There was also a black notebook with cut outs of his favorite recipes sticking out of it. He looked at the wall.

He looked around the room before pushing the clothes inside the bag and zipping it up.

His leave was denied but he knew that going to work would not hurt him. Being home and staring at the blank walls hurt his conscience more. When he was handed his salary and bonus, his mind had gone back to his own pastry shop but it took one call from his mother to render him broke. The Bishop was going to visit her and she had to prepare him fish. Did he know that the best size of fish she wanted cost around a thousand shillings? The Bishop was coming with two Deacons, three Lay Readers and some Church members. It would be a shame if they ate ugali and sukumawiki at her house. She would never show her face at the church after that.

He sent her all the money he’d earned for the month of November.

“Listen, my son, you always embarass me with your kindness, are you coming home this year?”

“I wanted to Mama, but I am working over the holidays. How is everyone doing back home?”

“Everyone is just as they are. Mama Nancy’s cow gave birth to two calves and she cannot stop talking about it. Your Uncle broke his leg again running away from some men he’d stolen from, that man will die running I tell you. Hey, your sister, says she needs some money for tuition.”

“How much does she need?”

“Three thousand two hundred and seventy.”

“Okay, you can use some of the money I have sent you to pay for it.”

“Ai! This money will not be enough to take us through Christmas and if I start spending it on everything, what will my visitors eat? Wallie! You know how I like to treat my visitors.”

“Yes Mama. I will see what I can do and thank you Mama for taking good care of us. God bless you.”

“Wallie, are you okay?”

“I am Mama, why do you ask?”

“You sound different my boy and I know you. Something is bothering you, listen do not worry about your sister’s fees we can always work something out, you work hard and it is more than enough. Listen, I want you to come home soon, we have to sit down as a family my son. Please, tell me you will come.”

“I will come home for the New Year, how does that sound?”

“That’s the boy I gave birth to, Wallie! God bless you my son and do not forget to pray, and give thanks to Him.”

“Goodbye Mama.”

He sat back and checked the time by his phone. It was almost noon when he walked out of his bedsitter and made his way to the Restaurant for the afternoon shift.

Each step he took felt lighter, like he was walking away from something that he couldn’t see. He only knew one thing for sure, this time he was not walking away from his dream, but he was rather running towards it.

It will rain

Walter walked into The Restaurant two hours into his reporting time holding an umbrella. He made his way past the lounge, the kitchen and into the changing rooms. He put his bag down and set his umbrella by the wall leaving drops of water on the floor. He rubbed his palms together and checked his phone for messages before switching it off.

He started to remove his jacket when the Manager walked in. She greeted him and handed him his time sheet. There were two kinds of managers that Walter had worked under in the industry. The first was the one who listened and laughed with you or shared a cigarette only to submit a bad evaluation that got you fired. The second were like Priscah; chubby, round like ball gum, cute like a teddy bear but mean as that kid in class one who took your ice from you and beat you to the ground when you started to cry. The woman had been with them for a year and everyone stood still when they heard her heels announce her presence ‘tock, tock, tock!’
“What time have you written there Walter?” she asked.
“Nine thirty.”
“I see, and what time are you supposed to report here?”
“At seven o’clock.”
“Is there a reason why you are this late Walter? And is it a good one?”
“Yes, Madam, there is.”
“What is it?”
“My Mother was referred to Kenyatta Hospital for treatment, and I had to spend the night by her side. I apologize for being late today. I will see to it that she is taken care of by my cousin so I can be here on time.”
“I am sorry about your Mother Walter, but this is your job and customers cannot wait for you to come from Kenyatta to serve them tea. Get ready and take over from Maureen and Joseph.”
“Thank you, Madam.”

He watched her walk out of the room and released the breath he was holding. He looked around the changing room-they had two closets, one belonged to the men and the other the women.

Everything about the place put him on edge, from the lighting to the pay and the staff. His mother would have killed him for that, but he could not tell her that the reason he was late was because he was working on a proposal for that Equity bank loan he needed.

He had been here for two years and that was two years away from his dream.

It was eighteen minutes to ten o’clock when he walked out for one drag. He lit his cigarette and leaned against the wall for that moment of relief. It was still raining even as he smoked, and his old man came to mind for always saying that “women are like rain, if they decide to pour, you can seek shelter, or run, or try and cover yourself with an umbrella but they’ll still pour.”

The Restaurant: Waiting on Tables

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?”

“Maureen.”

“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.

Read:

The Girl with the Golden Smile 6