The cycle of Strangers

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Chapter 9

I look up at him again, not taking my eyes away at all.

“What about them?”

“Are they real?”

“You’ve seen me with them for the last three weeks and you only ask me now.” I raise my right eyebrow in confusion.

“I thought they were contacts, plus even if I asked you last week you would have bitten my head off.” His eyes smile for themselves, playing in sync with his laughter.

“Well, yes. They are real.” I shake my head, dismissing him and I walk my way into the store.

I saunter down the narrow aisle, halting at the cash register where the shopkeeper stands with a small grin spread over his lips. His eyes smile for themselves as he greets me with a small bow. With that, I return his smile and bow back at him- as a sign of respect. Not a full head over knees type of bow, but one which looks more like a head nod. In my Zimbabwean culture, whenever we greet elders it’s almost an automatic action- no one ever told us as kids to do it, I guess it’s something you just grow into.

The shopkeeper on the other hand, is Nigerian. From the minute I heard his accent, it was almost apparent to me, let’s just say my friend’s father helped me out with that one.

“Good Afternoon, sir.”

“How are you doing, Rosa?” He attempts a British accent, only with his thick mother tongue taking over.

“I’m fine, sir.” I chuckle, unable to hold back my reaction.

Slowly his high brows settle into furrowed ones whilst his eyes look up further than my 5′8 self. Glancing to the side, I see him standing besides me, looking between myself and Mr Musa. I hold back my urge to roll my eyes, so that I don’t come across rude.

“Two of the strawberries, please.” His voice sounds gentle, as he places two cups on the counter. My mouth gapes at the fact that he doesn’t seem to know how to greet people first. I mean, I can’t be the only person who will still say a quick ‘hi’ -at the very least- before anything.

Mr Musa nods at the boy, holding his head high with a newly placed toothpick sticking out from the side of his mouth. One thing I must say, is that Mr Musa treats me as if I were his daughter. I’ve known him for just over a year now, hence the way he’s having a stand-off with Gio over here.

“Oyinbo boy, heh?” His eyes run up and down the boy’s figure with a smug look on his face.

“Mr Musa, it’s not like that. He’s just my-”

“Friend. I’m just her friend. She already rejected me.” Despite Gio’s proud smirk, he doesn’t get the laugh he expected from him. Instead, Mr Musa looks him up and down again, finishing with a blatant kiss of the teeth.

“Don’t mind him, sir.” I hiss at the boy.

“If he tries anything with you, just know I’ve got my igbale ready.” The two of us chorus into laughter with the sudden smirk on Gio’s face lowering.

“Don’t worry yourself, sir.” I smile. “How much are the strawberries?”

“Don’t worry about it, just enjoy!” He pushes the cup towards me.

I give him a bow and pick up the fresh fruit. Gio proceeds to reach for the cup besides me, only to receive another hiss from Mr musa.

“It’s a pound, fifty for you?” He scolds.

“Oh... right.” He shuffles around in his pockets. And for some darn reason, my heart sinks for.

“Sir, why must he pay too? He’s my friend.” My voice turns into a whine, forming a look of pity on his face. To which, he looks up at Gio with annoyance very clear.

“I gave him twenty-five percent discount, na?” He throws his hands out.

“Rosalina, it’s fine. I can pay.” Gio awkwardly laughs, bringing out two coins from his pocket.

“Argh, you let him call you by your full name. Nawa for you oh! Keep it and get out.” Mr Musa says harshly, which in his own way isn’t serious. However it can come across very rough and irritated. If I were in Gio’s shoes I’d run out in an instant.

“Thank you, sir.” He gratefully picks up the fruit and looks at me with eyes that just scream ‘let’s go before he kills me’. How cute!

“Rosa.” Mr Musa stops me, asking for my ear.

I lean in closer and wait for his words.

“Don’t let him colonise your heart, oh!”

“Sir!” I gasp, running out the shop quickly, then running back in.

“Thank you.” I nod my head, then leave again, this time with Gio by my side.

In the clear light of the early afternoon sun, the strawberries are sparkling in their crimson and scarlet colour. I was going to save them for the park, but how can I when they are practically begging for me to eat them?! No, I need to wait! Slowly my own strength weakens and I pick up the spork with a strawberry covered in cream. I place it in my mouth and chew, the sweetness unravelling in my mouth. Grabbing another, I consume them without a thought until there are no longer a single one left in the large cup. Well... what can I say? I like to eat?

Without realizing, my eyes divert away from the cup up to his wide eyes. I begin to open my mouth to speak, quickly shutting it due to the current full mouth. Once I swallow the last strawberry, I furrow my brows and swat his arm.

“What is it?” I hiss.

“You ate that fast.”

“Did you expect me to eat it slow?” I pout my lips, raising one brow.

By now, we’ve passed the butchers with their hanging meat, the small bank hardly anyone uses, the small café, and then finally reaching the food market, specially done up for Christmas. Lucky for me, it’s right beside the park!

“I’m going to get churros, do you want?” My eyes sparkle up at the wooden stand.

“Nah, I’m good,” He purses his lips, then reveals a ten pound note from his jacket, “here.”

Take HIS money or argue my female equality?

Free food.

Independence.

“I have my own money, thanks.” I force a smile, holding back the tears.

“You sure?”

“Yea, don’t worry about it.” I giggle. Did I jus-

“I’m gonna get a sandwich then.” He points over at a baguette shack, decorated in tinsel and Christmas reefs.

“Alright.” I nod stiffly, slowly making my way over to the churro stand.

“Female rights.” I mumble lowly, mentally punching myself in the face for not accepting free food.

Before I know it, the candy buffet, next to the churros, start looking good. I choose a 500 gram pick and mix. And my oh my, the salmon baguettes are just calling my name. I choose salmon, lettuce and mayo.

In time, I’m walking back with a carrier and bottle of water- for health’s sake. Gio looks at the bag, then my face.

Fool.

“Where shall we sit?” I smile, revealing my teeth- even the empty space.

“We’ll find a bench and table.” He looks down at the bag of food I’m swinging by my side.

“Cool.” I smile at him, hoping he’ll stop.

“Stop! Why are you being creepy?” He steps to the side, cautiously.

“What am I doing?” I let my bottom lip hang.

“Acting like that.” He points his hands at my face, sculpting out a picture frame.

“Like what?”

“Cute. It’s weird.”

“I’m just happy.” I throw my nose in the air, walking on without him. Hustle and bustle of crowds within the footpaths, cause me to look straight. Everyone has their own type of food in their hands, munching away with moments for talking and laughing. This is the time of year everybody’s happy. Rich or poor, smart or dumb, people don’t care. Everybody speaks to everybody, regardless of their background.

As I continue down the path leading to the park, strong and unfamiliar scents overpower the smell of dirt and well... England. It’s so heavy, I feel like I could almost open my mouth and just... and just take a bite of the air.

I stop at a picnic table in the centre of five, placing my bag and drink on the table. Gio appears, placing his food down and sitting opposite me.

Carefully I sit down, taking out each item. First the baguette, next the Nutella churros, then the chocolate strawberries, after that the packet of sweets, finishing up with the nice and healthy, good, old water.

He silently watches me, eyes and mouth frozen wide open in an expression of pure shock. Although he was staring at the food, it felt like he was quietly attacking my choice to eat over my health.

“Can I help you?” I lick my lips. Not at him... at the food of course”

“How can you eat all of that and you’re not even fat?”

“If I were fat, would you ask me such a question?”

“I was just-”

“Not thinking before you speak? Try to work on that!” I roll my eyes, picking up one of the churros and dipping it into the sauce.

“Sorry.” He replies timidly, hopefully understanding his stupidity and shutting the hell up.

“Okay, let’s eat.” I take a big bite of the churro, indulging every last bit of it as it meets my taste buds.

“One more question.”

“Make it good.” I say with my mouth still full.

“Who was the shopkeeper? And why doesn’t he want you to date a white boy?”

The food finds itself rushing down a little too fast, making me immediately grab and open the water. Taking three big gulps, the food continues down smoother, but his face remains still. I’d have thought he’d offer to stick his hand down my throat just to help me... but no.

Instead he knows the meaning of Oyinbo-

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