Dreadlocked Lines

The coffee shop isn’t too crowded.  There’s a middle aged couple at the far corner talking in hushed tones. A young woman wearing a blue niqab that reminds me of my high school classmate and swimming partner from all those years ago is seated two tables away from me. Blue Niqab is reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I can barely read the title from where I sit but I recognize the cover with its multi-colored quadrilaterals and the lady holding an umbrella. The book on the shelf in my living room has the same cover.

It occurs to me that I’d rather be anywhere but a scantily populated coffee shop on a Saturday morning. As a matter of fact, I know I would still hate being at the coffee shop if there were more people. I just hate coffee shops. Period.

But I did promise to be here. So I take a deep breath, another of many that I have been taking to try and steel my nerves, stop the racing of my heart, dry the palms of my clammy cold hands. It hasn’t worked so far.  I look at the coffee in front of me, the cute heart design on the froth sinking into the milky base with every second I wait.

Maybe, I should leave. I look around, wonder for a moment what the people watching me might think, wonder why they would care, wonder why they would be watching me instead of minding their own business… The crazy little thoughts ping pong in my mind and I almost laugh at the ridiculousness of it. So I continue sitting, back ramrod straight, just staring at the coffee.

I blink.

And then there she is, walking towards me, tall, with an air of superiority about her, her dancer’s hips encased in faded blue jeans that disappear into suede calf high boots. God, she is tall! I raise my eyes, I can now see her smile, and peripherally her long dreadlocked hair. I always wanted dreadlocks. I just never made the effort to go get them. They look nice against her éclair brown skin.

She is upon me with another blink. I stand; my hand extends of its own accord to offer a handshake. I realise she is closing in for a hug. And then she is hugging me. For a half moment I see the lines in her face. The picture on Facebook of her with the Martin Luther King Memorial in the backdrop made her look as young as the teenage boy and girl standing with her. A son and daughter the captions and comments had explained.

I can smell her perfume; it is nice, hints of both fruit and flowers, definitely lavender. I like her perfume. Then I feel the anger rushing in. It is brimming hot and quickly overpowers the fruity and floral scent. I think I can’t breathe. I really can’t breathe. She says something; I can’t make out what she says. All I can hear is a garbled sound that makes my head hurt. She leans in, bending her knees as she does, and speaks again. I still can’t hear what she says. I can’t even see her clearly anymore. She is just a silhouette now, with a fiery red aura.

I can’t take it anymore. There is a ringing in my ears, a pain in my head that I don’t want to feel anymore. She is talking. She is still talking; why will she not just shut up? I want her to be quiet, for just a moment, so I can think, so I can bring my mind under control again. But I still hear the garbled sound coming from her.

I just can’t take it anymore. My hands close around the serviette wrapped knife and fork that the waitress placed on the table for some reason. An inane thought crossed my mind; shouldn’t the fork be delivered along with the food, or at least just before the food is served?

And right then a gust of clean, calm coolness sweeps into my mind. My heart slows down. The aura dissipates. My hand lets go of the knife and fork. My hands are still cold and clammy, but they are not shaking now. And I can hear her words.

“Oh my gad, it is such a long time since I’ve been in a café in Nairobi!”

© Juliet Maruru

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