BY MIKE MUTHAKA
Her name was Salma. She wore lots of make-up, and she had a round face and big hips and fierce eyes that gave me a chill every time I looked at her. She was never in class on time, but a girlfriend would often book her a seat. Salma was constantly tapping on her phone during class.
And I couldn’t help but think: after a grueling high school experience, in an only-boys boarding school, I was finally here, seated next to a hot campus siren. And phones were totally allowed. And the teacher had no qualms with tardiness! It felt like academic freedom on steroids.
So one time I was running late to class. I was certain my favorite seat would be taken. The class was already packed when I walked in. The lec hadn’t arrived. I started to look around for an empty seat, and that’s when I spotted Salma, signaling me to the seat next to hers.
“Nimekushikia kiti,” she said.
And just like that the cat was in the bag.
Salma and I shared a physics class. I was a freshman. Physics was a general unit, a requirement for all Media students.
I had taken physics in high school. The formulas and concepts were still hovering in my head. My teacher was a short stocky man called Voyo Victor who’d administer weekly tests. He’d beat us within an inch of our lives until we could stomach the entire syllabus.
In campo my classmates were mostly second and third years. None of them seemed to like physics, especially Salma.
And unlike Voyo, the lecturer was a lanky fellow who skipped classes on a whim. He’d always make sure to give an assignment, though, to be done and submitted by the end of the class period.
Salma was in fourth year. Booking me a seat was the first step in reeling in my naïve ass. I looked like I knew my way around the subject and, she asked, could I help her out with the assignment?
I thought she meant, Would you please tutor me?
What she really meant was, Would you do the assignment then write my name at top of the page?
She ask me nicely. Her powerful eyes bore into mine and a smile played on her lips. A serial seducer. I could see myself in the next two minutes falling for her charm, begging for some sugar, promising to bring down the moon for her.
I was completely given to her and I did all her class work that semester.
I don’t know how she faired in the final paper.
I haven’t seen her since.
We meet at Jus Chicken, the girl and I.
(Not Salma, A different girl altogether. Unlike Salma, this one is an engineering student. A lover of physics and a breaker of hearts. Of a face full of youthful chubbiness. Of whom I’d helped write her first class report. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m that guy who did reports and things for girls. How else was I to get ahead of my game? This one as far as I could tell was an angel though.)
Her face is just as I remembered it, playful and dimpled and tiny lipped. She seems taller. Her jeans are fuller and she’s sporting a bright yellow top, cut square with little puff sleeves, giving way to long beautiful arms. Her skin looks clearer. Her fragrance floats over me in waves.
A bus boy is doing rounds, wiping tables, standing on the edge, staring at nothing in particular. An oil truck barrels behind the restaurant. The in-house cat is nowhere to be seen. It’s not yet lunch time.
A woman carries a tray of fries and sits at the next table. The smell wafts over to us and I inhale all of it.
The girl tells me she can’t remember the last time she had fries. And that she’s paying more attention to her health. She’s not drinking like she used to. She runs in the morning. She’s interested in school and she actually studies.
We’re here only because her lecturers are on strike. Otherwise she’d be in class, knee deep in physics and math. She has a five-year plan in the works.
She always had a way of making me feel small with her level mindedness. She seemed to exist in a cloud of perfect control while I spun needlessly on the current of life. Her grip on things contrasted with my childish turbulence and I loved every second of it.
Three years ago, Salma and I had sat on the exact same spot as she watched me type her class report. It was called Kenchic in those days. On a September morning, I had skipped my class to meet her there. Her report was due in two hours.
Now here I am, three years later, getting caught in a similar predicament with a different girl with entirely different intentions.
We order passion juice. The restaurant is barely awake, but the silence is punctured by the car wash machine next door.
We are still swallowing the time lapse when I ask the girl how she remembers me.
“You were a sweet boy. Easy to talk to. You loved beer.”
“I still do!” I smile. “And you? What else have you been up to?”
“I’m doing business,” she says with delight.
She reaches for her purse and takes out a brown bag. She empties the contents on the table – a box of soap and a capsule of lip balm (with jojoba). I pick up the box and study it as though I’m really interested in buying. I almost fall off my seat when she says how much it costs.
“How is a bar of soap 800 bob?” I ask, creasing my brow.
She adjusts herself in her seat and launches into a marketing stance. She starts telling me about its benefits. She tells me the soap will be gentle on my skin. It’ll cleanse and clear my face. And keep me smelling fresh. It’ll do all the things soap is supposed to do.
“Is it the one I can smell on you?”
“Yeah,” she says, smiling.
In an instant I see that all too familiar charm. She’s about to have me now like she did back then. One twinkle of the eye and she’ll have me in the bag.
She slants her head slightly and I picture her in the shower, lathering her strong arms, her skin gleaming from the steam, water droplets traveling down her lean body in small zigzags.
Did she ever think back to those days, when she’d let me kiss her soft lips? Does she remember how my hands liked to trace her curves? And what does she taste like, now that she’s using avocado soap? Could I have a taste, sorry sample?
“So, will you buy?” she asks, a cheeky smile coming over her face.
This was Salma all over again. For Chrissakes! I remembered how I’d always try to turn Salma down. I’d make up excuses about being in a hurry so I wouldn’t have to hang back and do her assignment.
“I have an urgent meeting in town.” I was unconvincing as hell.
Salma’d rope me in with that smile of hers. “It’s a short assignment, Mike. Haitachukua long. Aki.”
She’d pierce into my soul with those eyes and I’d hear myself read a different script, “You know what, the meeting can wait.”
She’d go back to her phone, and I’d be left mumbling to myself, Take me to your lair, oh sweet Salma.
She never did. The only thing I ever got from Salma was an “aki thanks!” What’s a boy like me to do with that, hm?
Later that day, I walk into the house with overpriced avocado soap and lip balm. I resent how completely given I am to these girls’s charm. I never win with them, I’m always the loser. I prop the products up on my dresser, next to my bottle of lotion.
It’s been a month since. And if only Salma could see my lips now, all soft and moist and coated with jojoba. I have a feeling she wouldn’t say no to a sample.
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