Indeed, absence is not goodbye for am I not back as promised to satisfy your curious minds with tales of Flash and matatu businesses? So, where was I in my story?
The weekend came and went and I was anxious for Monday to come. Not because it was the last week of our course with the driving test scheduled for Friday, but because I wanted to learn more about Flash and his life. And probably because I also had a crash on him!
I held my breath when I found him already on the bench. After an exchange of greetings, I turned to my novel, read for a bit and then asked the question that was foremost on my mind, “Why are you taking your driving course now? If your family is in the transport business, you should have done this course immediately you turned eighteen.”
“I know. When I finished high school two years ago, I went full time into modelling and was travelling a lot. But now, I have told my agent to slow down my bookings a bit. I want to learn the business and that is why I have joined my dad.”
“What about university?”
“I am not really interested in university. Are you?”
“Yes, of course!” I almost shouted. “How can you even consider not going to university?”
“I am not really book smart,” he shrugged. “I got a C plus in KCSE.”
“That qualifies you for university,” I argued.
“Yes. But I am not interested. I will probably do it later. When it makes commercial sense for my current or any future business I may get into.”
It was time for class and our conversation ended. On Tuesday, I was first to arrive and focussed on my novel. I was at the climax of the novel. On the third to last chapter.
“What are you reading?” he startled me. I was so engrossed that I had not heard him arrive. “You have been reading that book since last week. It must be interesting.”
“It is,” I smiled at him in greeting.
“Let me see,” he took the book from me and read the title aloud. “A Man Cannot Cry!” Then he turned the book over and I followed his hazel eyes as they skimmed through the back-cover blurb. “I must read this one as I cannot help but relate with a man of powerful needs and desires like the protagonist in this book.”
“I don’t lend my books,” I protested.
“As security for its return, I will also give you a book of mine. When will you be done?”
He held out his hand and I shook it.
“Deal,” I said.
I finished the book that evening but was reluctant to give him. Should I lie to him and say that I lost it on my way to the driving school or that it belonged to my sister and she took it back? I knew none of the lies would fly and so I reluctantly carried the book to school.
“Fantastic!” he was genuinely excited to lay his hands on it.
“You enjoy reading?”
“Who doesn’t? It is the only thing that keeps me sane and sober. Plus, since I am a bit of an introvert, I stock my mind through reading.”
“Interesting,” I muttered.
“What? I don’t look like a reader?”
“Your protests against university made me think that you are averse to anything academic.”
“Reading a novel is not academic,” he laughed. “It is recreation.”
He reached into his backpack and handed me a book. I took it thankfully and read the cover, “Paradise by Judith McNaught.” I turned it over and quickly perused the blurb.
“It is a romance?” I asked him.
“Yes. Romantic fiction. My favourite genre.”
“I have read Temptation by Jude Deveraux,” I interrupted him.
“A wonderful piece of art, don’t you think.”
“You should read Catherine Cookson. You will be hooked.”
We went into class and were now prepping for the driving test. Thursday flew by and Friday was here. We took our driving tests at Kabete police station and after that returned to Wheels Driving School to say our goodbyes to our teachers and friends.
“Here is my number,” Flash gave me his number on a piece of paper.
“Here is mine,” I said scribbling quickly on a piece of paper and handing it to him.
“You finish that book and I will finish this one and then we can meet up and hand them back.”
“That’s a cool plan.”
He hugged me and I felt his warmth envelope me. After that, we rang each other up intermittently on the succeeding weeks and then lost contact. I did not see or hear from him until around four years later when I saw images of Moon Kid 300 matatus flash across the TV screens. I stopped reading and unmuted the volume to hear what was going on. Apparently, Flash’s father had taken some huge investment loan and defaulted. “Assets of the Traction Company Limited including Moon Kid 300 matatus, Snap Safaris tour vans, Oceanic Truck trailers and Flash 2000 shuttles will be repossessed by the financier unless the company is able to repay the loan.”
I felt sad for Flash but he quickly disappeared from my mind as I dove back into my novel.
I met Flash physically in 2010, ten years after our last meeting. At the time, I was working as a wildlife warden and on that weekend, I was the duty officer. I received a call from one of the rangers stating that one of the visitors at the park gate was claiming to be a Kenyan but did not have any Kenyan identity document. She carried an American passport but was refusing to pay non-resident park entry fees.
I armed myself for battle with difficult customers by putting on my beret, taking up my swagger cane and moisturising my lips with a generous amount of lip balm to aid the fast talking that was about to take place. Arriving at the park gate, I put on the plastic smile that I usually reserve for problematic customers as I approached two vehicles parked to the side. They were latest model Toyota Prados, one black and the other silver. A tall dark-skinned man was arguing animatedly with one of the rangers while some beautiful damsels stood by his side. Leaning on the black car and looking on in disinterest was a tall light-skinned man. I could see two other men seated in the back seat of the black car sipping what looked like beer out of cans.
I came closer and greeted the animated man, “Can I be of help?”
“Yes,” he said. “I asked to speak to the manager. Are you the manager?”
“I am in charge,” I said. What is the problem?”
“A Kenyan comes to the park and is forced to pay fees like some foreigner. This is our heritage!”
“Who is this Kenyan?” I kept calm.
“My girlfriend just came from the states and she is being discriminated!” the man shouted.
“Which one is your girlfriend,” I was looking at the girls.
“Here,” a lady said in an American accent.
“Hi,” I greeted.
“Hi,” she responded.
“What is your name?”
“Are you over eighteen years of age?”
“What form of identity do you have on you?”
“I have my passport.”
“That is inconsequential!” the man shouted.
“Shush,” I help up my swagger cane to silence him. “I am addressing the lady. I will get back to you shortly.”
“Damn it!” he cussed. “Shushing me like I am some pre-schooler.”
I re-applied my plastic smile and turned back to the lady, “An American passport?”
“Yes,” she said. “But I am a Kenyan.”
“What is your father’s name?”
“Emma James. What does it matter?”
“Do you recall your Kenyan ID number?”
“No. I don’t.”
“Where in Kenya do your parents come from? Which province? District?”
“Well, I can’t really remember all that?”
“Da hell!” the dark skinned man cut in. “You shameless tribalist.”
“I addressed myself to the lady,” I said calmly.
“She believes we are tribalists like her?” the lady was incensed. “I am not a tribalist and I won’t answer such a question. I have my rights you know!”
“Are you kidding me?” the dark man shouted approaching me in anger. The light skinned man also left his observation post and walked towards us. The rangers were on guard and when they saw the two men approach me they stood close by, firearms held in port position.
The light skinned man was a few steps away from me when he asked unsure “Didi?”
“It’s on the nametag,” I retorted.
“Oh my God. I can’t believe it is you.”
I looked into his eyes and the plastic smile was immediately replaced by a genuine one. “Flash!” I exclaimed.
He took two quick steps and suddenly, I was in his embrace. He hugged me like I was a long lost relative whom he had been praying to be reunited with. At last, he let me go and stood back.
“You are not allowed to do that while I am in uniform, you know,” I admonished.
“Look at you!” he said. “Who ever thought!”
“And look at you,” I said. “Looking better with age!”
Indeed, he looked finer than he had done ten years ago. His physique was a bit leaner which made him look even taller. He also seemed to have lost the shy look he had when I first met him.
“It’s been what? Ten years.”
“Ten long years!”
“I haven’t seen or heard from you in all that time.”
“Me too.” I paused and then recollected, “I saw you in the news six years back, I believe. Something about your company being in trouble.”
“Oh yes. The financing issue. We pulled through!”
“That is great to hear.” He clearly did not look like somebody who was suffering in deep debt. He was thriving!”
“It was tough but we overcame it.”
“You have always been an optimist.”
His voice was quieter as he said, “A man cannot cry. Remember?”
His friends looked on wondering what we were on about.
He moved closer to me and adjusted my lapel that he had dishevelled with his huge bear hug.
“A man cannot cry,” he repeated. “But he can promise paradise. Only if you will take it!”
I looked into his hazel eyes confused by the hidden meaning of his words.
“Excuse me! Flash! We are either going into the park or we are not.”
Flash cleared his throat and turned to the lady speaking.
“Of course, Karla,” he said to her.
Turning back towards me he said, “Karla, this is my long lost friend Didi. Didi, meet my wife Karla.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I extended my arm in greeting.
“Whatever,” Karla said ignoring my extended arm and giving me a sour look.
I retrieved my hand, embarrassed.
“We must meet up sometime and catch up when you aren’t working,” Flash said.
“We must,” I parroted sarcastically.
He came close to me and out of earshot of is wife and friends, whispered, “You know Didi, I still hold you dear in my heart. I keep the book as a treasure and read it over and over again. Every word in those pages remind me of you. Do you still have my book?”
“Yes, I do,” I was breathless.
“Remember me always,” he was staring deep into my eyes. “Absence is not goodbye!”
With that, he walked towards his car, his arm around his wife’s waist.
I stood entranced.
“And what about my girlfriend,” the dark man’s grating voice brought me back to the present. “We shall pay citizen fees or take our business elsewhere.”
“She shall be charged non-resident rates,” I said to him as I turned away.