Madame, Can You Buy Me Some Lunch?

I am in a rush…
I’ve waited till the last minute, which seems to be my forte, to get to converting money.
Saturday afternoon. My cousin picks me up, he is heading to Westlands, has some afternoon plans I have planned to piggy-back on. We go via the Chiromo route and head to Westlands, cutting across Waiyaki Way at Kempinski. That back route to Westie which back in the day, pre-Kidero closing the roundabout at The Mall, you only ever saw when you were in a jav that was trying to evade traffic.

It is easy enough to withdraw money, that Co-operative ATM at Woodvale Avenue is such a life saver for me! Conveniently located to facilitate an impromptu night in Westie, for Fridays, Thursdays and sometimes even Wednesdays when I get that timely call from a friend asking if I am down for a random plot and I am in no shape to be fighting temptation, so I just give in. Plus, I probably just want to give in, let loose. It is also handy, as now, when I just need a quick trip to the ATM, not much fanfare. It is the most easily accessible one from home, now that I think about it, and is close to all the supermarkets and shops I frequent.

Money withdrawn, all I need is to get to a Bureaux de Change. I worry that my cousin, who dropped me off and parked outside will start to get impatient if I do not show up soon. This was supposed to be quick. I also know it will be quicker to just walk down the street and find a Bureaux without getting back into the car and having Larry drive around trying to locate one. I walk back to where he is parked and tap on the window, just to let him know I am off to part two of the mission. He rolls down the window, the sound of him talking registers before I see the phone to his ear, the tinted window having just let visible enough of him for me to see what he is doing. I mouth my intentions and he nods. I am not convinced he has understood what I am saying, he might have just waved me off to get back to his conversation sooner.

I walk down the street. There are several banks lined up one after the other. Equity. Co-operative. Family Bank. Africa Development Bank. One after the other as though at the other end of the street is a bank that is a politician giving handouts, everyone patiently waiting their turn. I know all of these will give me outrageous exchange rates, I am intent on going to an independent Forex Bureau, never mind that I have not a hint of an idea what the exchange rate is.

The first one, the closest one, is closed.

I get back to the car and ask Larry if we can go a little way off, towards The Mall. He agrees. On the way, in the little traffic that causes us to take two and a half minutes to get there as opposed to 40 seconds, the time is filled by us laughing at the realisation that neither of us remembers when we were last at The Mall. ‘Is Santa Fe still even open?’

I get out of the car at the Oil Libya next to The Mall, he tries to score one of those free parking spots outside Chicken Inn. We don’t want to pay for parking when I will probably be 5 minutes at the Bureau.

At the security screening at the entrance of The Mall, I ask the watchie where the Forex is, she points me in a direction and then adds that it has however been closed already. “Are you sure?” I ask. “Yes,” she responds. “Ninahakika,” she is certain. I turn back and start weighing my options. Get back into the car and ask that we go to Sarit? Just walk to sarit? It’s another really short distance that could ultimately be lengthened by the Nairobi traffic. I walk. It takes a jiffy. Walking into Sarit, I bump into an old friend, from uni. June. We used to hang around pretty much the same circles at school. She is working on a construction site behind Sarit. ConMan things. In on a Saturday because she has some overdue work she did not want to carry into the next week. Seems life is happening to everyone. Responsibilities cannot just be shelved so easily for future dates out here in the real world. Occasionally, you man up and deal with it.

I get to the Forex, there is only one teller, out of three, serving. I have to take a sit and wait. I see South African Rand on the board, hopefully this is a positive sign, they have Rand. A few weeks ago my mum had quite a bit of trouble getting ahold of some for my younger brother who was travelling down south.

I get to the counter and the lady nods in the affirmative. Hallelujah, there are Rand! I get as much as I need and start heading out. On my way to the door, the teller calls me back to give me my ID which she still has, having taken it to make a copy. I try not to think of what trouble it would have been if I had left it, start walking back to the Oil Libya where I left Larry, wondering whether he is still on the phone with his friend or if he has finally started wondering at how much longer I seem to be taking.

When I am just outside the gate of Sarit, crossing the road heading towards Sankara, a 9 or 10 year old boy, if I were to guess, crosses the road ahead of me, mirroring my pace from a few metres ahead, crossing and heading in my direction with his arm outstretched.

“Madam, you look very beautiful…”, he says, each hurried stride bringing him closer to me. I smile, already knowing where this is going. “Can you buy me some lunch?”, he caps it off. Lunch, never mind that it is close to 7 pm. A man walking past us sniggers, having been privy to the exchange, recognizing the rote tone with which the young boy had uttered the words. The rote symptomatic of a memorized phrase, one practiced and used over and over again, with the same arm outstretched.

I greet the young man. Ask after his well being. He asks me again, “Can you buy me some lunch?” I tell him no, “Sio leo.” He instantly changes direction heading towards a pair of individuals walking the other way. No just means next.

I get back to the car, Rand firmly in my pocket, we can now get to those afternoon plans.

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