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Why I need to find a new chapati vendor

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By MESHACK YOBBY
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I quit running to get fit because I just couldn’t do it. So now I walk a few evenings a week. I motivate myself by saying I will not go back home without chapatis.

When you walk often, there are things that you start to notice. Like the carpenter that always has a cup of tea at 7pm before closing shop; the women outside Wanjiru’s salon who stare at you until you turn your neck a quarter of an inch in their direction, and then they hastily look away. Wanjiru’s Salon and Kinyozi was where I got my first haircut when I moved to this neighbourhood.

People say that men get married to their barbers but I have strangely never developed that attachment. My head likes an adventure. It has seen a pair of scissors, a manual shaver, electric ones, and the hands of beautiful women at Wanjiru’s, who offered scalp massages, then afterwards smile and ask ‘Are you satisfied?’ Yes, ma’am, I am.

After Wanjiru’s, there is the bank that has the most beautiful teller I have ever seen. It isn’t because she is petite or light-skinned – I don’t care much about that. There is just something about her that makes me want to keep looking.

She smiles at women and hardens her face when it’s a male customer. Poor her. Beauty is such a burden. But she is married. I check her left hand every time I walked in to deposit my rent. But maybe the ring is there for cosmetic purposes. I don’t know.

Usually, after the bank, I stop by the chapati guy because for all my abilities in the kitchen, I cannot make a chapati to save my life. My chapati guy is based right under a tree. I don’t know why they love trees that much. His tree is right next to the road. So close that if you laugh and fall backwards, you will get minced by a car.

When I lived in Umoja, my chapati guy then used the only tree in the whole of Eastlands to establish his base. I didn’t like him much. His chapatis were more transparent than a window.

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Back to my current chapati guy, he is a young, slender man. He dyed his hair brown, perhaps to match the colour of his chapatis. He has a gold tooth too. I know it will rust one day. It can’t be real gold…I like him, especially because he never tries to force conversation. People who buy food on their way home are usually not in the mood to socialise.

I ordered five chapatis today. He took out a transparent plastic bag that looked like it had been recycled, wore it on one hand and counted the chapatis with the other exposed hand. After that he wrapped them and handed them over to me. He then took the note I gave him with the bare hand that had just counted my chapatis. Like a mutura guy. Legend has it that mutura, the roasted African sausage made of tripe, rejected meat, and God knows what else, has to be a little dirty for it to be authentic, so that’s alright. But not chapatis.

Money goes to church as tithe, then later in the week finds itself in joints with prurient interests. It goes through the hands of a nose-picking conductor, and then into the hands of a chapati seller, who makes sumptuous chapatis but laces them with the flavour of currency.

The thing is, I have a sensitive stomach. One time I ate dirty food and my stomach could not stop grumbling. I work in film, and every time the director yelled ‘Silence on set!’ my stomach would take the grumbling a notch higher. Eventually, I had to send someone to get me something to quiet things down.

And now, this chapati guy touched my chapatis with a bare hand. Sigh. And all the way home, I kept asking myself: how does one clean chapati?

So, just like I change my barbers, I have to find a new chapati guy.

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