The story of Zurri 1
The streets of Greenwich were overly congested that hot Saturday morning: it was barely ten am and already throngs of half-dressed people strolled leisurely in all directions. No one seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere; except Zurri as she jogged past the university grounds along College way. The Royal Navy college on the other side was filled with tourists and what looked like a film crew – she slowed her pace, removed her headphones from one ear and listened, but all she could hear was the murmur of the multitude and traffic.
She took a pollen filled breath and crossed the street into Park Row and jogged towards the park, where, despite the multitude of tourists who visit Greenwich in great masses, she could take deeper and fresher breaths there. She particularly loved running in the park because no one recognised her there, she could immerse herself in her workout – running up the hill to the observatory and back down several times as she listened to Louise Hay’s affirmations. After several runs, she stood at the top of the hill to admire the view of Canary Wharf in the distance, and the historical foregrounds of the old navy school.
On her way home, she decided to give herself a rare treat – ice cream: it was hot with temperatures expected to reach 30 degrees by the afternoon. She was all worked out and sweaty as she joined the long queue at the corner ice cream vendor. She felt guilty wanting it but justified her actions by reminding herself that she’d just run several miles, it was sweltering and there was an obese lady in the queue who looked less deserving of ice-cream. She could almost hear her condescending ex best friend Chidima scold, “she should have ice cubes not ice cream!” Zurri chuckled as she thought about Chidi and her inappropriate, sometimes hilarious and sarcastic comments about everyone, everything and every situation. She missed her.
The ice cream vendor was a jovial man who spoke to everyone like they were long lost friends. “Hello darling! What can I get ya?” he asked. He was a thick set man in his fifties with an Osama beard and a permanent tan like someone who spent winters in Ibiza. He spoke in a distinctive cockney accent – he was the quintessential dell boy. When Zurri was a newbie in London, she often got flattered whenever anyone called her ‘darling’, but has since realised it was a way of speaking rather than endearment. Just like she’d since learnt that, in these parts of the world, asking someone how they were was merely a formality rather than care or interest into how they were. In Kenya where she was born and spent her childhood and teenage years, asking someone how they were elicited long winded updates on the weather, children and other extended families – conversations that could last hours. She asked for a soft serve with chocolate stick. Eighteen years before, she had no idea such delicacies existed.
As she tucked in and leisurely walked home, she couldn’t help but appreciate how beautiful the day looked. She compiled a list of things to do before the England V Sweden worldcup football match that evening. She would write a few chapters of her upcoming book: she would skype Johnnie in Canada, her vivaciously gay-friend-storyteller who dreams of severing his penis to feel complete. Most importantly she would start undoing her braids which she’d had for almost 6 weeks and would take a day or two to undo. She had had them braided six weeks before in Kenya – it took 4 people and 4 hours to have a head full of tiny thin and long twists that looked great until fresh growth begun to sprout. The hot weather didn’t help with the smell and she hated smelly old hair – Chidi kept her twists until they started falling off by themselves. Chidi been invading her thoughts a lot lately.
She thought of walking to Deptford high street first – with its array of pound shops, charity shops and betting joints it was a welcome change from the touristic Greenwich market – and she wanted to buy some ‘hard’ chicken to make pepper soup as she unbraided her hair. “If only you could get hard chicken in Greenwich?” she mused.
She quickly dispensed the idea of Deptford high street – she wasn’t dressed appropriately: normally she would dress in disguise to visit such places – to avoid recognition from the hundreds of Kenyans shopping in the market. Whenever any Kenyans recognised her, they would invite her to any and all functions – pre-weddings to baby showers to medical bills fund-raisers to funerals; more often than not they’d ask her to be the guest of honour in these events. She didn’t mind the medical bills fundraisers and funeral expenses committees, and as much as she was blessed with a little fame and fortune, she drew a thick line at pre-wedding parties and baby showers.
As a young girl growing up in the slums of Mathare Valley, pre-wedding parties and baby showers were as necessary as medical bill fundraisers because no one had enough money to educate their children let alone buy food and drinks for a multitude just so they could witness the union of two people in love. These random inviters also encouraged her to invite ‘her friends’ with deep pockets – it was no secret who she was dating. The thought of this possibility squashed the Deptford idea, and she decided to text her favourite butcher, Alli, to Uber some chicken to her. She did this often and Alli had no problem delivering.
Her ice cream melted faster that she could lick and decided to throw the rest of it in a bin near the entrance to the DLR station. She power walked the rest of the way as a feeble attempt to burn the calories she’d just gained from eating the delicious cone.
Zurri lived in an ultra-modern but modest flat in Greenwich, London. Her flat was on the top floor of a six-storey build on the edge of River Thames. From her terrace, she enjoyed the view of Canary Wharf in all its glory and skyscrapers. It was beautiful at nights and she loved sitting there admiring the concrete jungle while contemplating the future. She loved having her morning coffee and smoke on the terrace and watching the river below, wondering of the creatures or dead bodies lurking beneath the murky waters.
Living in luxury and alone was not always the case – when she moved to London eighteen years before, she lived in a poxy flat with seven other people including a Rwandese conman who tried to lure her into the seedy world of prostitution. “It’s easy money honey! All you have to do is what you do with your boyfriend anyways!” He’d say and shrug his broad shoulders. At the height of emotional turmoils, she considered it, but past experiences stopped her, besides, she often thought, she did not go through hell and high water to come to London only to become a prostitute.
The power walk to her building left her invigorated and in need of oxygen. She decided to take a few deep breaths at the courtyard – a section in the complex created for residents to use as they pleased. It was usually empty but as Zurri walked towards the rear, she noticed a man seated on one of benches with his back to her. She assumed it was one of the residents, but from the way he sat – like he was invading someone’s privacy and wasn’t supposed to be there – made her uncomfortable. His presence and that uncomfortable feeling changed her mind about stretching or doing anything in the courtyard. As she turned to walk away, the man spoke.
“Excuse me madam?” he had a deep familiar voice and a heavy Kenyan accent, although she couldn’t quite tell where she had heard that voice before. She turned around to face the man. He looked well over sixty, heavily pregnant and very dark, almost dark blue-purple shade. He wore a winter hat, either as a pathetic attempt to conceal his identity or because he was cold – for a Kenyan it was cold.
“Can I help you?” she said cautiously, trying harder than ever not to sound Kenyan. She was, unlike most Kenyans with her kind of upbringing, able to switch her tone and accent to suit situations. “Can I help you!” she repeated. She couldn’t understand why she felt uneasy, but there was something about the man that made the hairs on the back of her head stand.
“My name is Nathan. I’m looking for a young woman called Kazuri. Do you know her?” The man now spoke with a more distinct accent that Zurri could not only tell he was Kenyan, but from which tribe, especially from the way he pronounced Nathan – it sounded like he said ‘naathaney’.