“Do all your clothes have hoods?” Julia asks while sipping at a drink through a straw.
“I don’t like direct sunlight,” Matthew jokingly answers seated almost across her on the other side of the table.
“Last time you were a princess, now you are a vampire, let me guess, next time you’ll be a superhero.”
“Babe, I thought we agreed on leaving poor Matthew alone.”
He is seated next to both Julia and Matthew completing the circle around the small round table at Mlo Imla’s patio.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. It makes me feel right at home,” the man under fire claims.
“What were you doing yesterday?” Brian asks.
“I was finishing up on an assignment that was due today morning,” he remembers the glowing animal rune which he now wears in his watch.
“Did you hear that your go-to grocery lady was robbed yesterday?” Julia starts.
“For real?” Matthew says trying to sound as surprised as possible.
“Yeah, but I heard she summoned some demons on the thieves to get her stuff back,” adds Brian.
“I haven’t heard that part,” says Julia.
“Yeah, man. Some bodaboda guy told me that its face glowed white and that it could turn invisible.”
Matthew laughs it off, “and you believed him?”
“I don’t know what to think. You’re the witchcraft expert, tell me.”
“My father was a very successful witch doctor but believe me, he didn’t have any powers.”
*Technically I’m not lying, I’m the one who had the powers.
“Are you sure?” Brian confirms.
“Yeah, we used to laugh at our customers all the time, my father had no powers.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in these things,” Julia asks her boyfriend.
“I don’t, I was just considering the possibility. If you had seen how spooked that guy was, you would have had some doubts too,”
“It was raining, right? Maybe one of the thieves slipped, fell, got knocked out and he needed something to tell his friends so that they wouldn’t laugh at him.”
“So he made up a story about demons?” Julia muses.
“That seems a bit far-fetched,” Brian seconds.
“But what I heard was that those guys weren’t thieves at all, they were from the gang that controls everything around here,” Julia says in a low conspiratory tone.
Matthew squints at her, “Gang?”
“The Uroboros gang?” Matthew is clueless. “With their King who wears the head of a lion?” Still clueless. “Do you live in a hole or something? How have you not heard about the gang?”
“It’s because I had a certain radio that used to inform me about all the goings-on in the neighbourhood but we haven’t been in touch for a while,”
“Radio?” She leans in towards him, “by the way, that certain radio is not going to be of much use when it’s running on empty batteries…”
Matthew looks at Brian.
“Brayo, your corrupt girlfriend is asking for a bribe.”
“You heard her,” he says.
They look at him with malice in their eyes.
“So that’s how it is… ”
Without looking, he snaps his fingers in the direction of a waiter and beckons him to come.
“Did you see that he didn’t even look,” Julia wonders.
"Habari… (Swahili, how are you)” the waiter answers his greeting, “bring us three smochas and three more of these. ” Matthew shakes his cup.
“There,” he leans forward on the table, “now start talking.”
Julia shrugs showing her palms, “You should at least let a lady order for herself.”
*With your appetite, you’ll bankrupt me.
“But it’s been happening for a while,” she continues, “Apparently, the businesses here have to pay a fee to the gang once in a while in order to be allowed to operate. Anyone who defies them gets their business ransacked, and if they try opening shop again without paying, some get attacked, mutilated, others even die.”
*So, she’s still in trouble.
“Does the government, the police know?” asks Matthew.
The waiter arrives with their food and places it on the table.
“Thanks… I don’t know for sure, but since the guys who were caught yesterday are already out, one can assume they know and are in the loop.”
“They’re already out!” his face contorts into anger.
“Yeah... were you friends with that woman or something?” She asks, curious at his reaction.
“I’ve only been here three months but every time I want to cook or buy some fruits or whatever, I always go to her place... You could say I’ve grown attached.”
“But as long as she pays or doesn’t open shop, she’ll be safe.”
“Safe?” his anger boils on his face, “That’s not safety, that’s just pushing back the date she will get assaulted again. It’s not like she doesn’t pay for a license or doesn’t pay her taxes but now she also has to pay criminals so that they don’t attack her business?!”
Julia and Brian look surprised at Matthew’s outrage.
Matthew grabs his drink and gulps it down.
She looks at the silent man next to her.
“Brian shut up, you’re talking too much. Don’t you have something to add?”
“It’s called etiquette, I don’t speak while I eat,” he teases. Julia feigns offence, “besides, you have already told him everything that is relevant,” He looks like a man who is hiding something, Julia notices but Matthew doesn’t.
A baby cries. A waiter shouts orders. Cutlery taps and scratches against plates.
Julia smiles at Matthew, “it’s nice…”
“To know that the ten-year-old boy who beat up those older kids for crushing Brian’s toy still exists somewhere inside you.”
“You remember that too?” Brian jumps in.
“Of course, it was epic.”
“Dude, you were brutal, I had never seen anything so savage. Had your father taken to you to some sort of karate class or something?” Brian asks.
*Just something else about myself that even I don’t understand.
“I think you broke someone’s arm in that fight,” says Julia.
“Yeah, my dad was forced to foot the hospital bill.”
“I hate to have been you that day, he probably beat you like a drum,” this from Brian.
“My father has never beaten me.”
“Lucky, I’m sure your mother wouldn’t have spared you, that’s how it usually goes,” Julia concludes.
Matthew smiles, looking at his drink, Brian looks at him a bit coldly while Julia beams a warm smile at him.
Matthew’s phone vibrates. He picks it up from the table. It’s a reminder to study for a CAT.
“Won’t it break your leg if it vibrates like that in your pocket?” Brian.
“It’s like it’s drilling for oil,” Julia.
“Is it a Nokia?”
“Or an earthquake?”
“Maybe it’s a Subaru.”
“Text me where you buy your phone mufflers.”
“Its screen is probably broken now.”
“Thor, the god of thunder with his mighty phone.”
Matthew abruptly stands up. “I think that’s enough of feeling at home for one day.”
“Where are you going? We just got started,” asks Brian all riled up.
“I need to study for a test.”
“You? Study? Lies,” Julia pokes.
“Let me pay for the food first.”
“Matt, I got this, you go study,” Brian says.
“For real? Thanks,” He turns to Julia, “I guess you gave me free information then.”
“No, now you owe me a favour.”
“Let’s meet up again later.”
He fist-bumps Brian attempts to shake Julia’s hand. She cocks her head, stands up and hugs him.
He walks away from the table. Julia looks at him. Brian looks at her.
“We chased him away, didn’t we?” she says after a while.
“Yeah, we might have gone a bit overboard with the roasting,” Brian says his face not matching his words.
“Why didn’t you tell him about your dad or your brother?” she asks.
He thinks for a moment and says, “You saw how angry he got about a woman he barely knows, I didn’t want to burden him with my problems too.”
“Yeah, he would have probably flipped the table like a dramatic housewife,” she says and smiles.
Julia sees the smocha on the table next to Matthew’s empty drink. “He forgot his smocha,” she looks at Brian.
“What are you looking at me for? It’s not like I’ll be able to stop you.”