I come to this cafe often. The walls are painted in a dark creamy beige that reminds me of vanilla and ice cream and cinnamon and warm, soft pastries for some reason. Maybe it’s the whiff of brewing coffee that hits you the moment you enter the cafe. Every time I come here, my mind immediately goes to Cookie, his infectious from-the-belly laugh, froth and whipped cream, spices and sweets, breads and cake. It’s all so comforting.
This is the corner where I often sit. There’s a much more airy and open part of the cafe surrounded by very green, very much alive plants that create a cool comforting space. But I prefer to sit in this little corner of mine.
From here, I get a pretty good view of everything; of the different people who walk in. I can’t obviously leap from my seat and run to them with a pen and pad. But I wonder what their stories are though. So I make them up as they walk in. It’s a little game I call, “What’s your story?” I used to do this with Cookie when he was still here. He often said that the crowd in this place had a certain crowd that it attracts.
Young tech geeks anxious about possible meetings to sell a product. You can often tell from the way they dress and their heavy backpacks that they do something I.T related. But it seems like everyone walks around with a large backpack now. I still like to think that at least one of them is a tech geek. I find it cute when they mumble to themselves. I imagine they are working out mathematical errors, bugs or practising a little sales pitch.
Tourists. The girls often wear tank tops and loose-fitting multicoloured cotton pants that sway and jiggle with every stride. They always look so comfortable. (Mental note; I need a pair or two.) Then the boys; it’s often shorts or long khaki trousers like they are prepping to go on a safari that very moment or jeans in colours you can’t make out. Is that dirt? They’re often very cheerful. Glad to be away from their dangerously cold countries and here in our tropical wonderland I guess. It’s hard to tell where they are from until I’m able to catch at least one word in whatever language they are speaking.
Lena Dunham. I’m still not sure if it was her but she sure did look like Lena Dunham. But what would Lena Dunham be doing in Kampala? Wonder whether she was on vacation too? I texted my friends telling them that there was a lady that looks just like Lena a few feet away from me. They of course urged me to take a picture. I tried and failed miserably. The picture came out looking like a blurry mess. If only I had the balls to get up, go over, say hello and ask if she was thee Lena Dunham before she packed up her things and walked out. If only Cookie had been there with me that day, he would have done it in a split second.
Newlyweds. Their rings are always extra shiny. Most of them sit on the lower terrace under that green airy shade. It always looks like they are having a quick lunch rendezvous. I like to watch couples and try to make out where most of the love is flowing from; the man who gets that gleam in his eye when he looks at his lady? Or maybe the lady who seems to use every chance she gets to touch her man, while looking at the menu, every moment she happens to laugh at something he’s said. I often hope I’ll catch a moment when they do something cute. There’s sweetness to those moments that I can’t help but fall in love with.
The people walking in aren’t the only thing I stare at when I’m here. I have the perfect vantage point for all the paintings; nature mostly. The rest are of people’s faces with a few abstract pieces here and there. There are photographs too. It’s an interesting mix of wall hangings; something for everyone. Even though they are so different, none of them look out of place. All the wall hangings have hints of earthy tones, coffee browns, dark chocolates, burnt orange hues and dark reds that bring everything together with a unified theme.
The first couple of times I came here the paintings with the faces were rather unsettling. I felt like they were just staring at me, watching me but now I feel at home with them hang across the wall. It’s like walking into a party and seeing familiar faces of friends and family Cousin Choochoo, Uncle Lee, Auntie Why-don’t-you-smile, Happy Grandpa. Yes, I gave names to all them. Cookie’s idea. We got tired of referring to them as “the one with this” “the one with that” “the one next to the entrance…not that one the other one with big beautiful eyes”. It seemed like a good idea and Cookie jumped at the chance and named the one with the big beautiful eyes Cousin Choochoo. They all had stories too. Cookie and I built them over time. Happy Grandpa had been through a great deal in his most formative years. He found himself part of the war but managed to return home to his wife and children. He bought a dog and in the middle of the night when he couldn’t sleep and all he could hear were screams and gun shots, he’d get out of bed and go on sit on his porch. His dog Cheetah would come prancing to him and he’d sit there talking to it telling it about everything that had happened during the war. He loved how attentive Cheetah was and how eager it always seemed to guard, checking out any rattle and shake in the rose bushes or at the fence before coming back and sitting by his side to continue listening to his stories. Happy Grandpa found some kind of peace in Cheetah’s loyalty. And then when Cheetah passed, yes Cookie and I decided to put a twist in the story, we had to put timelines in the story considering dog years as well, Happy Grandpa had already emptied that regretful part of his soul into him and could live a little more freely than before. Cheetah’s memory was preserved of course because he had puppies with the neighbour’s dog, two of which Happy Grandpa had taken on. Cousin Choochoo was one of his grandchildren. She looks nothing like Happy Grandpa but he loved her the most.
In my corner, on my right, is a painting that hangs right over my head. Sometimes while I’m seated here, I take brief moments just to look up at it. It has a different effect on me every time. In the painting is a beautiful woman looking dead ahead; her face held high and her shoulders thrown back with pride. She has a colourful chunky beaded necklace round her neck. It looks rather heavy and yet perfect in its place there. Her hair is wrapped up tightly in a vibrant printed head scarf that exposes her face, her contoured cheekbones and her long neck. Absolutely regal. She oozes power, strength and knowledge. I named her Alamai after my mother. She does resemble her in ways that I can’t fully explain. Cookie always claimed he only saw it on the shape of her face. He said he didn’t really see it. Maybe it’s how comfortable this corner has always been for me. Maybe it’s the way her eyes stretch out slightly, pulled into perfect curves; those eyes that look like they know me. But then again everything about her is like that saying; “if walls could speak, they would tell tales” I guess I could say she’s my wall.
This is where I come for first dates. I don’t sit in my corner on such days though. That would be showing too much of myself to a person I barely know. But this is still the perfect place nerve wrecking engagements like “the first date”. It helps that I’m already home here. The only thing missing is often me in a large t-shirt or a flow-y dress, pillows and fluffy slippers for me to be completely wound down and comfortable. Even though I don’t sit in my corner for those dates, I’m sure word still gets to Alamai that I was at the cafe with a boy; through Cousin Choochoo, Uncle Will Smith (because he kind of looks like Will Smith), Auntie Why-don’t-you-smile all the way to Alamai. I can hear Auntie Why-don’t-you-smile hhmmming with scorn as she narrates the doctored stories to Alamai. My Cookie had the funniest impersonation of what he thought Auntie Why-don’t-you-smile would sound like. It always cheered me up. Everything he did cheered me up.
This is where I come when things are turning out well and peachy and I need to take a milkshake that’s spiked with just a bit of liquor because I’m in the mood to celebrate. On such days, I look up at Alamai and raise my glass to her and in return what do I get? One of her eyebrows is slightly lifted and a look of disapproval. I think I was putting too much liquor in my juices and shakes. I blame Cookie.
This is where I came to mourn Cookie. Death claimed him in a terrible fatal accident. Everyone called him Chief. I’d call him Cookie while no one else was listening because he was sweet hardened a little by everything he had been through in the three years preceding his death but not enough to make him any less sweet. He didn’t like it much, said that he didn’t look the kind of guy anyone would call Cookie because he was big and tall and, as he constantly reminded me, “very masculine”. To try and get me to stop calling him Cookie, he started calling me Cookie but that didn’t work.
We used to come here whenever he was in town. He always had an espresso and I’d have scoop of ice cream and a slice of cake that he would keep taking bites off of until it was all done. But he was always nice enough to buy me more. We’d discuss our conspiracy theories about everything from cave drawings to whether robots will one day wake up and enslave us or from a discussion about what has always been truly behind the ever spiking forex rates to something as odd as why there are so many reality shows on television. It was the truest definition of talking about everything and nothing.
10th June. I was home when I received the news. Something already felt wrong about that day. I had gone out for a run to get my heart bumping just so I could chase the blues away. When I got back home, I got the call. I was frozen. His brother was on the other line; barely audible with a shaky voice. He had to repeat it a couple of times before it could all sink in. My mother had heard the news as well. Our families knew each other. She came to me and held me. And right there, the flood gates opened. I wasn’t able to hold back my misery, my distress. I felt weak as my mother continued to hold me. I remembered the last conversation I had had with my Cookie and how he had used the words. I remember that conversation we had.
“None of it matters anymore…”
“Cookie, nothing’s always right otherwise we’d be full of ourselves. But we’re writing our stories, we’re at the part where Cinderella isn’t invited for the ball. There’s time”
“You have time…..I give up. None of it matters anymore”
I could hear it in his voice, the strain, the prolonged pauses and frustrated sighs that his spirit had been broken. I guess when he got into that accident the last remaining strings that were holding him back from floating away from us were severed. This realisation stabbed me right in my heart, right in the centre and continued to drill at that wound in a deathly manner. I couldn’t keep my Cookie. I had failed to help him mend whatever had been broken in him. I wailed. And at that moment, mother stopped cradling me and with a stern voice like a sergeant to his squad said, “Stop it!!!” and I did. I simmered down.
The reminder on my phone went off while I was still at work yesterday.
“My Cookie’s birthday :)”
It’s been three months since he passed. My heart sunk. It felt like a panic attack coming on. Worst part was that my Cookie wasn’t there. He was always there for me when I had panic attack.
My insides shrunk into itself like it was trying to disappear. My chest got heavy and my head begun to spin. I couldn’t breathe and I thought I could die any minute. It didn’t help that I was still at work while everything seemed to swallow up my mind and drain my spirit. I managed to get through the last hour at work.
This is where I come when I’m sad and low. This was the closest place that I could run away to. It’s the only place I wanted to run to. The scent of food had been so unwelcome. It made my stomach churn even more. I had an overwhelming urge to throw up. I have no idea why I stayed.
I thought that a cup of coffee would jolt me out of the wreckage that I felt I had been left in for dead. So I got myself a cup; black without a drop of sugar; what did it matter I have no taste in my mouth anyway, Irish; because I needed the extra nudge and punch.
I caught a glimpse of myself in that black mirror and I hated what I saw. It was baring my soul right in front of me and reminding me that my world was crumbling. Then it happened, I started to feel like I was drowning all over again. I tossed my head back trying to reach back to the surface and catch my breath.
I felt another panic attack coming on. It’s like something had been ruined inside of me. I shifted uncomfortably on that high stool. I hit my cup and within moments, my cup it had flown off the table, landed on the floor and smashed into pieces spilling all my coffee. I felt a thousand eyes setting on me and this made things worse. My chest tightened, I couldn’t breathe. My eyes started to dot around the room. I had no idea what I was looking for and then I looked up at Alamai and I could read what she was saying with her eyes
I read it in the way her temple seemed to cringe at me.
“Stop it!!!” and I did. It was like finally getting my head above the water and taking that first large breath of air. A waiter rushed to my side but I could barely hear what he was saying. Then my phone rang. It jolted me back to reality. It was my mother. There was a hint of concern in her tone, “Are you okay?” and I was.
This is where I come to think. I’ve been sitting here for about an hour now nibbling on a chocolate fudge cake that I know Cookie would be stealing bites from. There’s an espresso that’s going cold across the table from me in the spot where my Cookie would have be seated. The scent is enough to stir up nostalgia.
I’ll sit here a while longer before going to that party Cookie’s brother organised to celebrate Cookie’s birthday and his life. I’m not sure I even want to go. Yesterday was hard enough for me. I don’t want get teary eyed and faint from sharing memories about my Cookie. I don’t want to die all over again. I want to sit here and listen to voice notes that he sent and giggle to myself. I want to listen to his infectious from- the-belly laugh and laugh along.