He watched keenly as she spun the dough into thin slices ready to make Chapati. She knew her art, rather she was good at it. She seemed to enjoy doing it. She also had a sweet smile, a Colgate smile as he called the wide smiles that expose pearl white teeth. The smile came as easy as the jokes going round the table. He anticipated the smile that lit her round face. It was however a silent smile on a face with silently beautiful features. She continued spinning dough with the smooth stick as she smiled. She knew he was watching.
He was like any other man. Men enjoy soft and hot Chapatis but we have no idea what goes on between flour in the stores and round Chapatis in our hands. We just devour and only the cultured man will remember to thank the chef.
“Hmmm that Chapati is sweet and it is also so soft!” The cultured man utters after the first bite, making sure that the chef hears him.
But our subject is a Kenyan man. If food is delicious, the Kenyan man goes for a second helping and possibly a third and the chef is to pick that as a clue that the food is being appreciated. Smiles were his weakness, not just smiles on beautiful girls, smiles on children and the elderly, smiles on pets and smiles on anything prejudiced warmed his heart. He made it his responsibility to put a spark on a face longing for a smile.
They were at Jamhuri Showground Park with the Rotary Club. With over one hundred volunteers, they aimed to make 4000 Chapatis. The club had organized an event to spread love to children living with disability by inviting them to a Chapati festival the following day. But we all know that Chapati does more than bringing people together and filling their stomachs, they go further and initiate conversations that lead to love and maybe children which means more Chapati. Actually there is nothing that can come in between a marriage built on Chapati. And Jesus. How do you start cheating on a woman who can make Chapos in a way that keeps them soft until the following day? That will be cheating on yourself because my brother you ain’t getting another one like that. (Imagine leaving a woman whose Chapos do not kauka despite being microwaved.)
Now our guy is a liberalized Maasai; let’s give him a name. Sam. Not Sam for Samuel or Samson but just Sam. A liberalized and generous Maasai Moran can go by the name Sam. Sam loves checked clothes (Like daah which Maasai doesn’t) so on Chapati Festival Eve, Sam wears a checked blue shirt. The ones popular with Okuyus. The shirt that says you own a portion of Kenya next to a by-pass. You know them, commonly sold by Warias. But the shirt is not the topic of discussion now. I just want you to picture Sam in a blue-checked shirt at the spinning table. He holds the stick in the way he would have held a spear in the face of a lion. He takes the first pull at the mountain of dough in the middle and flours his working bench to ensure he spins it in smooth strokes. Before he starts, he notes that he has to pull up his sleeves- literary and figuratively. He starts pushing and pulling on the small dough. The action is new to him. There is no muscle memory or anything that reminds him how to spin Chapati. Were it skinning a goat or cutting meat, he would be winning. This is pushing and pulling, the way you do ab-wheels at the gym only with less force, was it a requirement to enter heaven, most men would be locked out. He looked up to see how the rest of the team was doing and that is where their eyes locked. She was directly opposite him and she must have noted the struggle since she was smiling. It was an amused smile. The smile you give when you find a child trying to reach for the light switch in futility. You watch them for a moment and that reminds you of the first time you tried to reach for a switch. You tried jumping, stretching, standing on toes and when you felt useless did your mother clear her throat from behind you and helped you out. Sorry, I am deviating too much from the story today. It isn’t a long one so I will just buy characters by adding useless tit bits. Hang on, we will be done soon.
So Sam looks up and finds Naomi looking down on him. Naomi is a good name for a girl who can make Chapos.
“Is this your first time making Chapos?” Naomi enquires through the smile.
“It won’t just spread out,” Sam replied with a self-pitying smile and poked the small piece of dough.
“Watch me,” Naomi offered help.
She pulled at the dough, made a rounded ball of it and started working on it. She started with the edges ensuring it got a shape then started moving in swift push-pull strokes. Her hands worked like magic and when she flipped over to finesse the shape, his eyes almost rolled over. He was utterly impressed.
“Let me see you try,” she challenged.
Naomi watched as he labored with his piece and when it came out, she celebrated the achievement with him. It was not perfectly round, neither was it of even thickness nonetheless she celebrated it with him.
“By the end of the day you will be an expert,” she added.
Sam and Naomi talked throughout the spinning session. He was enthralled by her skills and she told him she loves cooking. He told her that Maasai morans no longer kill lions after circumcision to prove their manliness. He learnt that she lives in the students’ hostel at UoN. He told her that he volunteers as he awaits graduation at Kenyatta University. They teased each other about their universities. Sijui but UoN people think that University of Nairobi is equivalent to Harvard University and K.U guys think that they schooled in the best university in Eastern Africa.
“I am Sam,” he remembered that they had not done proper introductions long after they were done with spinning and were waiting for the cooking team to finish.
“I am Naomi,” she said amidst laughter,” all along I never knew your name.”
They got bottles of water from the water stand and walked away from the crowds. He felt the connection. She too felt it and person to person connections push people from the crowds. Everything else ceased to count, they walked down the road that leads to the racecourse. She loved the horses in the stables along the road. She was a creative who wrote in a blog that nobody reads, she had said that and supported it with a laugh. He was a Civil Engineering student, who was done with his attachment. He loved volunteering and checked shirts.
“Will you be coming tomorrow for the actual festival?” she asked him at the end of the day.
“If I get to see you,” he answered.
She boarded a bus at Dagoretti Corner, those M.O.A buses that ply Ngong and Town. They did not share contacts or a hug. The bus arrived, she said a quick bye and left. He stood there for a moment then crossed the road to board another bus home. He stayed in Ngong with his brother. That was Friday.
Sunday 1500 hours found Sam and Naomi tucked in an Ice Cream shop in a mall along Ngong Road. She sat opposite him and he had his back to the window. She still had the round face with a smile. He had another checked shirt- a brown one with white stripes.
Outside, the sun shone boldly on the streets.