It happened again today.
As I stepped off the 260, this time I did not run away. I walked up to her and said hello. She blinked rapidly and a frown creased her forehead.
“Hello Kenya, how are you?” I asked struggling to smile but she did not take my outstretched hand. She stepped back and blinked again, staring straight ahead.
“I beg your pardon, but do I know you? You sound strangely familiar, but I can’t place your voice.” Her voice is husky; it sounded like someone just recovering from a cold. She came across as intelligent and thoughtful which showed in her manner of questioning.
I retracted my hand and it dawned on me she never did reach out for my hand. She is blind!
She didn’t sound anything like Kenya, but she was her spitting image. Feeling rather foolish, I cleared my throat about to apologize, and then she smiled. God! How could this not be Kenya? She has the same attractive smile. Her face came alive as she flicked out a retracting cane and edged forward into the bus shelter.
“How terribly rude of me, hello you too, but I am sorry I’m not your Kenya. My name is Coco as in Channel. She reached for a handshake and I shook her hand firmly, still mesmerized by her smile. Her grip was strong for someone her size, just like Kenya, she was petite.
Her peroxide blonde pixie cut, screamed fashion conscious. She did not have on much makeup: some lip gloss and eyeliner against the backdrop of her long curled dark lashes. She had a rather big bosom for her small frame—which she could not hide, even if she tried—beneath her maroon flared top.
I looked her over and still wondered why I see Kenya and not her. Finding my voice, I quickly replied, “It’s nice to meet you Coco as in Channel. I’m so sorry but I thought you were someone else.”
Smiling, she sat on the bench, patting the space beside her, “Might as well sit stranger, the next bus is not due for twenty minutes.” If she had any fat on her, it was absent on her small waist, as she sat down, but definitely present on her bottom which fitted snugly in a pair of black hugging denim.
“I do apologize, I’m Femi. Let me get that will you.” I reached across and took her backpack which she placed on her lap. Her wide silver eyes provided a stark contrast to her honey brown skin, which my hand brushed as I took the backpack from her. I couldn’t help myself, I kept staring, trying to find at least one feature which did not remind me of Kenya, but sadly there was none.
People say we all have a twin somewhere out there. I wished my mom could see me now, talking to the twin of my sadly departed best friend of twenty-four years, and lover for two years. Kenya died last summer in a boating accident, and ever since, my world has not been the same.
Two elderly men soon joined us at the bus stop shelter. No sooner than they sat down, a bus approached slowing down. It was at least seven minutes early but the driver went ahead and let us on anyway. Coco flashed the driver a smile, a black man with dreadlocks.
He greeted her loudly in Patois, “Wah-gwan baby gal, looking beautiful ma queen.”
“You are on early today, Stribee, working double?” Coco replied, as she felt for the collapsed chair in the disabled area and sat down.
The 260 was almost empty, at least the lower deck. I stood beside her, despite the rows of empty seats. I watched as she carried on an animated conversation with this Stribee character. He had a way with her, I sensed the calm in him as he spoke and there was a deep connection between these two.
The Patois disappeared temporarily as they conversed. Stribee to my surprise was highly educated. His English and diction were impeccable. He had a gentleness about him towards her that was paternal. When you have nothing to do but wait, seven minutes could seem like thirty. Time crawled as my mind went back to Kenya and how she came to be a memory in my life.
Never one to slow down or cower at life, Kenya lived like every day was her last. We always teased her about her likes and passions, which were more like an oyinbo’s, our slang for the white man. Did she care? Hell no! Life was one big roller-coaster ride for her.
If she was not hiking in some Peruvian jungle with her weird uncle who raised her, she was somewhere in the Sahara on yet another safari assisting another charity network. University slowed her down for four years but soon afterwards, she took off like a raging bull.
We would cycle the 260 route; ride past Cricklewood and head on towards Kilburn hill. Many a time, we stopped at the most awesome bagel shop in all London. It was situated between Kilburn and West Hampstead. I can see her as I close my eyes; low cut peroxide blonde, a tiny diamond stud on her snobbish nose and those wide piercing hazel eyes. No one ate like Kenya. She ate as though she had been starved for weeks; an appetite so big, it got her teased and nicknamed for the duration of our secondary school days. She was the Combatrin chick, Combatrin is a worm expeller.
“It is hard to believe the white water rafting tour, she went to the U.S. for, would be the last time I set eyes on her. Our goodbye at terminal 4 at Heathrow on that particular day was a little too emotional for me. I remember her hug lasting just a little longer than usual and when I teased her about missing me already, she nodded and said she wished I was going with her.
People soon packed into the bus; a lot more people and no sooner afterwards, Stribee eased the bus back unto the road. Coco felt for me by her side asking if I was still there.
“Three o’clock, Coco.” I replied, placing the huge bag pack from her on the floor between my feet.
“So, who’s Kenya, an ex?” she asked softly.
“She was. You two could have been twins!” I replied almost inaudibly.
“You know what they say about everyone’s twin out there, perhaps I and your Kenya are one.” she chuckled, eyes flickering.
The word, ‘are’ stung! If only she were here, I thought sadly. Kenya could easily have been Coco.
“Kenya died two years ago, and her body was not recovered until almost a week and half after a rafting accident. The short version is she was never brought home. I never saw a body and so it’s been hard accepting she is gone. Seeing you the last two weeks almost every day, and you looking so much alike, well I errm.”
“Oh dear, you poor poor man! I’m so sorry!”
She was not so loud now, and for the first time she looked down at her feet. Without thinking I reached for her hand and she slipped her fingers between mine, squeezing gently as she rubbed her thumb against me inner wrist.
I froze! Kenya used to do that. I pulled away from her and thankfully, the bus had just pulled up by the Hospital, which was both our stop. I hurried down and waited for the ramp to lower so she could also get off. She said her goodbye to Stribee.
“See ya Stribee, Saturday.”
“Got it my queen.” Stribee replied cheerfully, before pulling out to join traffic again.
It was almost 5:30PM when we got off the bus. The brief moment we shared on the bus before I retracted, intimidated me. I walked slowly beside her, looking deeply at her face as she struggled with varying expressions, struggling to resolve something.
I was all too familiar with the look on her face. I too had recently began struggling with my emotions. It began when I first saw her.
“Why do I feel so comfortable with you Femi? She finally blurted out. “You fit like a comfortable pair of old gloves and I don’t want to let go. This is the strange don’t you think? Up till twenty or thirty minutes ago, you were but a stranger to me.”
Even the manner she called my name was familiar. We arrived at the corner of Barclay’s bank and I stopped, and she also stopped. I know she lives, down the opposite street which has several bakeries and the odd industrial factory. I told her I live around the corner in the opposite direction to her place and proceeded to hand her the backpack.
“Would you like to come over for a drink Femi? I am off work on Fridays, so I have my very own happy hour today, usually by myself but since fate has led you to me today, why not?”
She blinked repeatedly and I took her hands once more and simply asked her to lead the way.
Too many thoughts crammed my head. Why was she not afraid? I could be a rapist or killer and yet she invites me to her flat after forty minutes of meeting me. This is the one thing that truly separates her from Kenya. Kenya would never do this!
To be continued…