Every apartment block, or neighborhood has that one couple. That one couple that defines the life of that settlement. It’s usually a couple of seemingly mismatching partners – either in temperament or physical parameters.
The husband may be a dark, menacing, unsightly beast, while the wife comes off as fragile, beautiful and comely. The Beauty and the Beast fairy tale scenario. In other instances, the wife may be a landmine always waiting to explode, often in cross-balcony angry altercations – perhaps, even physical tussles. The hubby, though, contrasts as a living teddy bear, hard to irritate and always smiling.
Yet, they live happily.
I have been a Ruaka resident ever since I landed in Nairobi. Everyone knows everyone in my neighborhood – akin to an Ujamaa Village in pre-independence Tanzania.
Presently, I live in an apartment block off the main street, Munyeki Street. This section is hailed as Ruaka’s main artery in grocery and cereals.
This neighborhood has that one interesting couple.
Nyawira is a pleasant, bubbly, middle-aged light-skinned lady with a ground floor shop selling cereals and general household goods. She is always smiling and her infectious laughter rings along the busy street all day long. As expected, her shop is always ringed with customers – some haggling just for haggling’s sake.
Directly across the street, there’s Nyawira’s husband with a wholesale and retail charcoal outlet. He’s not a man of many words. He’s fondly known amongst resident college students as Mr. Grumpy. Stacked along his shop’s veranda, there are rows and rows of metallic tins brimming with charcoal. Unlike his chatty wife across the street, Mr. Grumpy’s premises is a No-Haggling Zone.
“Nipe makaa ya fifty”, a client says. Mr. Grumpy points at the relevant metallic tin.
The regulars know Mr. Grumpy’s work ethics. No one offers cash. There’s a colored poster on his door with a Lipa Na Mpesa Till Number 400200. All clients pay via the number, and Mr. Grumpy checks his battered phone. The number allows direct deposits to their Co-op Bank account.
Across the street, it sounds like a fun fair. Nyawira is juggling business with a couple of women and a little bit of good-natured banter.
“Mi staki mniletee Corona hapa!” Nyawira shrieks. “Keep distance. I still have a husband to look after!”
They entirely turn to look at Mr. Grumpy lounging in his seat across the street. Mr. Grumpy adds a new brow line to his usual scowl, for effects.
“Na staki pesa cash hapa.” Nyawira is at it again. “If pesa zenu ziko kwa bank account, piga transfer direct to my Co-op Bank account.”
“What if I don’t bank with them?” Asks Lucy, new at the shop.
“Usijali mamaa,” Nyawira soothingly assures her. “Co-op Bank iko na solution noma sana. Wana accept payments even from other banks. Ama vipi bwanangu?” She teases her husband scowling across the street.
“Inaitwa the e-Commerce solution by Co-op Bank.” Mr. Grumpy growls. “Ata ukiwa na Dollars ama Pounds wako sawa”.
Legend has it that Mr. Grumpy has a definite number of daily words, and perhaps such a statement may have exhausted it. No worry, his cheery wife will make up for it.
Real comedy comes when a customer wants items form both shops. They pick a tin of charcoal from Mr. Grumpy and cross the street to pick groceries from Nyawira. Since it’s the same till number, there’s a comical exchange between them as they confirm the bills and payments.
If this couple ever decides to move from this street, a lot of us shall weep, and grieve in sack cloth. That unlikely couple is the life of our neighborhood.
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