By Victor Kemboi, Eldoret, Kenya
I saw her alighting from a Mercedes C200 and I concluded she was one of those town lawyers. She was smartly dressed in a blue skirt suit and she covered her head with a shawl. I did not even identify her because she was also in some sunglasses that covered her eyes entirely.
I only noticed that she was with an eight- to the ten-year-old boy, possibly her son. The boy had torn shoes and I guessed they were looking for a fine cobbler to mend his shoes or a shop to buy new shoes. It was uncommon for people of such class to visit the roadside cobblers and stalls but I guessed my new shop caught their eyes. I had just started it and it was one month old, with me making my own shoe design and stitching them before selling them at a good price. People seemed to love my designs and they trooped into my shop in large numbers.
The woman asked me to mend the boy’s shoes. With my seven years’ experience mending shoes I thought I was not disgracing this opulent woman with my services. But I bet if I was still in my struggling days, I would charge her handsomely because she would not negotiate. As the boy sat on the customer’s stool so that I could attend to him, I showed the woman where other customers sat as they waited for their turn.
But I noticed one strange thing. The woman seemed to glance at me frequently and I wondered if I was doing the best to the boy. Or maybe she was admiring my adeptness and my cobbler skills and was impressed by how I played with the needle and thread. I continued cobbling now thinking what people do to God to be blessed with such success she was. I wanted to make it in this goddamn life like her if a chance came. Apparently, I had had this dream of starting a shoe company and if my shop continued flourishing, I was opening one, or partner with a big company, and also gain fame and earn respect. I thought people who had made it in life got unbargained respect, unlike those who languished in poverty.
Seven years ago, poverty had pushed me into this job, and even separated me with the love of my life, Pamela Wangui, whom I loved referring to as Pam. Since we got separated, my motivation to be successful had been the pain that had formed a scar in my heart.
You see, after graduating from the university with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, jobs became hard to find. And man, Pam’s parents advised her to leave me because I had no life. I had been summoned one afternoon by her parents to be told I was not her match, and that Pam, whom I knew loved me madly, and I still believe she does wherever she is, had continued to stick to me like that tick on cows’ skin, refusing adamantly to abandon me. Her mother had severally advised her to marry someone of her class, a rich man with money and everything, and by all means not to allow me to use her car because I could crash it yet I didn’t even know the price of a side mirror.
I remember that last night well when Pam and I had eloped to a faraway town with this car to hide from her parents when a contingent of policemen came to arrest me for kidnap. Man, that was the end of Pam and me. I was imprisoned for six months without being given the option of defending myself. When I came out I was told Pam had been flown away to the States to study Masters of Law degree. I suppose it was because I was so desperate and poor to marry a daughter of a rich man, precisely a renowned lawyer.
It pained me so much and I regretted the day I met her at the university. It was the first day in the school mess and she had escaped a near robbery if not for my physical body to scatter away those hoodlums at the university that dreadful night. Later, we fell in love, and to date, her mother’s words rang in my mind and I swore to buy my own car when I got a job.
But eight years had gone and life had continued to terrorize me. I had finally forgotten my Pam and accepted my fate as God’s intention. Eventually, I perfected the art of shoe shining and shoe mending in our town, and I was doing so well. Yes, so well to put food on my table and buy the basic needs. I hadn’t made it yet, but I knew I would go there.
I had also started thinking of marrying soon. Imagine all my age group had married, some with children in upper primary, and I was here waiting for Godot. I told myself it was time to start finding a lover and settling soon. I was approaching 40 in a months’ time, that age that people say life starts there.
I had started analyzing ladies that hovered around my premises but I don’t know why I disliked most of them. I could not find the strength to even accept that Philomena the hotel waiter, so beautiful and decent had failed to catch my attention until she left work a few months ago.
But this lady of course was out of the question. She was too high for me. She continued reading her newspaper and at times sending sharp glances to the boy and me, to which I assumed she was just concerned about the boy. By the way, you cannot trust these cobblers and you have to put all your eyes and minds on your children.
Anyway, when the mending and shining were over, she paid me. But Lo, she paid me handsomely that I got worried and opted to return the money. Imagine the 50 shillings that I had thought of charging the lady had been multiplied to 5000 shillings. The last time I held such an amount of money, was during those days when business had boomed. This was a miracle.
“Take the money,” my colleague Wanyama told me when I asked the lady that I was okay with the normal charge.
“You need it, please keep it,” the lady said observing the work I had done to the boy’s shoes. She was impressed.
Wanyama was now sitting next to me asking me to take the money or he takes took it. With that, something told me I was stupid. With this economy, no man left that kind of luck. I stashed the money in my pockets and thanked the woman who walked to where the same Mercedez that had brought them, had been parked from the other side of the street.
My mind almost went blank and I decided to close business for the remainder day. Even you, wouldn’t you have shut the business that day? That night I slept early and woke up after the sun had properly started to burn.
Later I arrived at my workplace. I was still satisfied with my previous day’s earning. The work was good. But today again another man, seemingly a chauffeur to a tycoon in town came and suggested to me that I shined his shoes, which apparently were not dirty, but needed a shine. And who am I to send customers away, I did it and got my payments made. This man left around a thousand shilling and said he had been sent here by a very happy customer. I started thinking the devil was hunting me. There was no way money came flowing that way for two consecutive days unless I was slowly being pulled to a cult that people said involved making sacrifices to family members. Even after I had refused to take the money, the man insisted and went away.
Today I was not happy. Why all these unwarranted gifts in terms of money? Was someone repaying me for what I had done in the past? No. I reflected that so many people had left my stall happy and promising to be back but this was too much now. Even if my customer was coming back, I didn’t expect the coming to be this way.
A week later again, to which I remained so stressed with this money I was being paid well, a strange man dressed in a tuxedo suit visited me. He said he was a messenger from PATAPATA Shoe Company, and he had been sent to ask me to accompany him to their company’s office to discuss business. He said they were interested in my shoe design skills and that their company wanted to partner with me. I would make them soar high, or so he said. And that their company needed competent cobblers like me. I felt good. My dream was coming true and indeed I would fulfill those things Pam’s parents had said I didn’t have. Even the thoughts that had depressed me the entire week left my mind.
But where was this company? And where were the offices? I wondered and nearly hesitated to accompany him. I had refused until he told me the company’s offices were in town and we could walk to be secure.
I closed my stall and went with him. The guy didn’t speak all the way except a few moments when he whispered to me that he knew I was a graduate of commerce. He praised me for my good services known across the town and that this was my opportune moment to partner with them. In exchange was good pay. That seemed to make the man respect me and for the first time, I felt appreciated and worthy. He suggested that we pass by a law firm within for him to pick their company lawyer.
As I sat in the waiting room of PAMELA & SONS ADVOCATES my mind suddenly reeled back to eight years ago when I was with Pam, my old lover. I didn’t want to think that this might be her firm and perhaps she had returned from the states to operate her own law firm. I only decided that there was a coincidence of names. And like I told you, it pained me once more that I had been separated from Pam. The strange man asked me to wait while he consulted the lawyer so that we could start going together to where the actual deal was but here, my mind started racing because of my ex-lover. I started missing her. All I knew is she was somewhere in the US. I am sure if she had my contacts, she would have contacted me. Previously I had never bothered asking about her from her home since I knew her mother and father were the reason we separated. I even didn’t feel like seeing them and I developed strong hate towards them. However, their daughter refused to leave my mind, and seeing the name on the door of this company’s lawyer, I wanted to find her, at least to even recap and be friends.
When the strange man returned, I was in deep thoughts. I however scrapped my mind off those thoughts to the partnership and the deal that was in the offing. However, the boy I had shined his shoes at my stall a week earlier came out of the lawyer’s office. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I remembered the overpayment his mother had accorded me and felt like this was a trap.
Shortly, a surprise hit. The lawyer herself came smiling at me. It was Pam, my ex-lover.
“What?” I exclaimed.
“Please give me a hug,” Pam said. But I was still shocked until I did not hear that. She embraced me, in front of her son who was looking at us speaking and speaking some American English which passed my ears because of accent. I wished this was my son. I would have conceived a child with Pam if not for her heartless parents. And was it true she was the company’s lawyer? I wanted to ask but Pam was speaking.
“I thought you will notice me when I brought Shawn to your stall. This is your son,” she told me. Did I hear her well? She turned to Shawn and said, “Shawn, this is your dad. The one I have been telling you.”
Shawn jumped into my embrace and surprisingly, he didn’t reject me with my humble looks. For the first time, I noticed Shawn looked like my brother and had similar characteristics to my late grandfather.
Pam welcomed me to her office and told me she had conceived that night when I was arrested by those rogue policemen. She had returned to the country six months ago and had started her law firm immediately. However, someone told her of me, that I had a running a shoe business in town.
“That is why I decided to search for you. I still wanted to be with you and I still do, will you accept me back?” she asked. I was somehow confused but I remembered I had declared to even find her contacts and talk with her and felt a wave of happiness in my heart forming. She also told me there was no business deal, but she only faked a way of making me meet her in her office so that we could talk.
“Why not my dear, I still love you,” I said and both of us embraced, our son holding both of us. It was a wonderful reunion.
Pam suggested we travel out to have lunch and get to experience our new love. I understood later that the strange man was her chauffeur Kibet who drove us to a hotel out of town. That day we didn’t return until late in the evening.
“Let’s go to my house today, I miss you,” Pam said. But I suggested that I return to my house and visit her another day, perhaps the following week.
We started seeing each other daily. I continued with my business but mostly Pam checked on me every day. She would leave Shawn with me and we would both sell shoes together. Soon I would start going to her house, a mansion at the leafy suburbs. I would sleep there sometimes.
When she came to my house one day, she suggested we move in and start living together. She said we could arrange a wedding at the attorneys and live together as a family again. When I asked if her parents would accept me back, she told me her mother died of a road accident three years ago and her dad no longer had a problem with me.
“He is worried I am not getting married and I told him I had to find you to marry me or I stayed without a man and he accepted. In fact, he is the one that told me you were working here selling shoes and mending them.”
A teardrop tumbled down my cheek but she took her handkerchief and wiped off my tears, tears of relief. She asked me to accept to go with her to her home so that her father asked for forgiveness. She said he was regretting the treatment they gave me eight years ago.
And so we arranged to go. One weekend we traveled to Shimoni her home. Her father waited for us. He could not withstand our meeting and he shed tears; I think tears of regret upon receiving us. His guilt was visible. But later after asking for forgiveness, he wished us the best and asked us to marry soon, which we did the following week at the attorney’s the way we had planned. Live then after was bliss!
© Kemboi Victor 20/5/21