Menza burst out of the bookstore with her autographed novel in her hand. Ty took the time to thank the bookstore staff before pursuing her. He thought maybe she would have taken off down the street but when he emerged into the windy street, she was there, still laughing. The wind was sifting through her ponytail and floating it in soft ripples beside her face. She didn’t seem to care, she was laughing too hard, holding the book above her head like a trophy.
She has never looked more beautiful, Ty told himself.
“You would deny a fellow bibliophile a chance to enjoy what you yourself described as a thriller- lover’s dream?” Ty tried his best to look sad.
“Ty, my dear, tell me do we have a deal?” she laughed again.
“Menza…” he appealed.
He walked up to her. He felt like the next natural thing would be to kiss her there and then but he knew it wouldn’t be received well, yet. Without a word, he took her hand and guided her down the street.
Two hours had gone by so fast. Ty had found Menza so easy to talk to. Their conversation had drifted from books to the art, music, and literature in the country, to outside the country… She was well travelled, Menza. However, she claimed her favourite place in the world was still her home town in the North Coast. Ty had admitted he couldn’t travel and that he ached to go to the Caribbean islands one day. So she had told him how beautiful Jamaica was. Then she told him why she loved Lamu more: for the culture, not the sights. The conversation had almost come to a stop as he debated whether to confess he had been brought up in the bowels of Kariobangi and had never left the city. But when he had said it, she nonchalantly suggested he should chaperone her there when she visits.
As their conversation had worn on, Ty came to realize how their differences fascinated him. She was proud of her culture; he knew nothing of where he was from. But he bet her he knew Nairobi better than she did. She divulged that she and her friends never had reason to explore beyond their expensive hangouts. They had talked about family and she had looked at him with awe and called him brave. The way she looked at him made him feel brave. It was a far cry from the looks his teachers would give him when they saw him in his worn out uniforms; pity. Pity coming from her, he imagined, would have made him feel less than human. She was laughing again and telling him that she loved to dance chakacha and how she would take him to Bomas of Kenya to watch Giriama men perform hanzua.
Ty had regaled her with his childhood escapades. He narrated his experiences and she said he was inspiring. He had promised to take her on a tour of the other side of Nairobi and she called it an amazing adventure she couldn’t wait for. They exchanged hobbies and interests and more than anything he felt closer to her than he had even hoped he would get today. He had mentioned he loved football, played it even. That was when she had baited him into walking her to his home estate that day by promising to share her personal library with him.
“I want to see you play, Ty,” she had said pouting.
He thought it was adorable. Told her that he would consider it, how many books did she have in her library anyway?
“I have collected probably fifteen books a year for ten years. You seem like a smart fella; do the math.”
“I know the one I want,” he had said eyeing the novel he had been holding for her.
At that point she had snatched it from him and ran laughing out of the bookstore. Now at the end of the street, still hand in hand, they hopped into a matatu and headed for Dandora. On the ride, Ty played tour guide. Menza indulged him, telling him that she always thought the city was beautiful. Its people she maintained, were amongst the most friendly she had ever met. Ty disagreed. He shared with her the horror story of one of his friends who had been mobbed at a nearby bus station on suspicion of theft.
“The town might treat you differently because of your background, but trust me, it’s not a bed of roses for men of my ilk,” he had concluded.
Menza fell quiet. The bus whined along the highway and her silence began to weigh on Ty. He began to feel hard pressed to apologize thinking he had offended her. He searched her face for a sign of annoyance but that coy smile still played on the corners of her lips. However she was aloof again staring out the window and when she spoke, he almost couldn’t hear her over the whine of the bus engine.
“You are a brave soul, Ty. If I can see it, the rest of the world is just unfair not to.”
His blush almost burnt his cheeks.
The bus pulled into Dandora a little after three. Ty guided his guest as they alighted from the bus and made their way to the football field. It wasn’t as much a football field as a dusty patch of land that was too worthless for some greedy businessman to grab, and too valuable to the people of Dandora for them to encroach over. Most of them had grown up playing on those very grounds. So they kept it undeveloped so their children would also have a place to play.
Every Saturday afternoon, Dandora teenagers descended on the grounds in the droves. Saturday was always match day. They had five teams, one for each of the phases of the estate. This meant the ‘league’ could be played and exhausted in one afternoon. Every week a new champion was crowned and it was a thing to look forward to for anyone in the estate looking for a fun activity on a sultry Saturday afternoon. The teams competed for nothing but bragging rights so it wasn’t odd to see players being poached around all the time.
Ty explained all this as he rushed Menza to the stadium. Menza had kept him in town longer than he had intended and he did not want to miss kickoff or have his team disqualified from the league that week for not having their captain present.
“You are their captain? Your guys ever win?” Menza teased.
“Not since Jose joined another team. Jose is the Messi around these parts, and he used to be ours,” Ty told her.
They walked a few paces in silence.
“But I feel lucky today. If I make it to the pitch in time…”
“Well, don’t worry about me, I can keep up. Just don’t make me run then lose the league. I’ll be taking pictures.”
So they took off in a light jog. Just around the corner from the football field, they ran into an anxious looking teammate of Ty’s. They had barely caught up to him before Ty lost himself in his new persona as captain of a soccer team.
“Martin, sorry I’m late man. I got caught up in town. Has the game started yet?”
“Not yet. But the first one’s already played,” Martin replied. “I see you brought us a guest.”
“Yeah, just keep your eyes on the ball.”
They jogged all the way to the field. The self-appointed referee was already getting ready to announce that one team had forfeited their game so Ty did not have too long to brief his team on the game plan before they strolled onto the field. A few steps in, Ty remembered Menza was in his company but all he could do was gesture to her that they would talk after the game. She smiled and shouted back to him:
“Score a goal for me and I’ll wait.”
The sidelines were packed with fans, Menza observed. Spirits were high as the first whistle blew. The teams were not even in uniform: they told each other apart by who was shirtless and who wore shirts. Ty’s team had, to Menza’s secret delight, lost the coin toss and therefore was playing shirtless. Menza watched as her new friend tasked his muscles in the field as the game wore on. He was skilled, he had been downplaying himself. He was faster than anyone else in the pitch and seemed not to tire as he and his team mates chased around the old leather ball. He was barking gameplays at his team mates and wonderfully entertaining the spectators on the sidelines with his well-executed soccer tricks that left the opponents spinning around looking for the ball and the spectators beside themselves with laughter.
Despite not being a football fan, Menza found herself enjoying the game. She felt like she could watch Ty play all day. Her iPhone had been busy the whole while snapping pictures of Ty as he danced around opponents with the ball and made precise passes that gifted his team two goals by the end of the first half. The team huddled for a pep talk at the sidelines while they rehydrated. Menza kept away but she could see how the team was hanging on Ty’s every word. And of course she felt the attraction between them grow when she noticed him glance up at her every once in a while as he motivated his troops. He made her knees weak just by smiling at her. Thankfully, he was oblivious to his own strength.
Back to kick off the second half, Ty had a mischievous grin on his face as he met Menza’s eyes one last time before the captain took over but it wasn’t long before she knew what he was smiling about, his crowning moment in her eyes. Having dispossessed the opposing team, Musa, Ty’s centre back made a long pass to Martin who had started a run down the flank. Their opponents were caught on the back foot and they were scrambling to get back on top. But right down the centre of the field shot the fastest player on the field. Ty made a wild run towards the goal and no one was gaining on him. Martin’s pass got to him just outside the keeper’s box. But first there was Frank, the opposing center back, to deal with. Frank came charging; that was how he played, using his large frame to intimidate opposing players into making premature passes. But Ty was undaunted as he dribbled towards the charging hulk. With just a few feet between them, Ty suddenly stepped over the ball, effectively back-heeling it into his waiting left foot which flicked the ball to the right and Ty followed his ball. Frank was moving too fast to change direction and he was in the dust the very second he tried. With only the keeper to beat and mad cheering from the sidelines, Ty knew he could not disappoint. A thundering shot came off the outstep of his right foot and the ball whizzed past the goalkeeper who seemed to not even see it coming. It was three - nil.
The spectators exploded into a mad cheer. All around were cheers of Ty’s name. He was running across the field in celebration, shouting and thumping his chest in braggadocio. Then he got to the midfield and looked to the sidelines and saw Menza jumping up and down as she celebrated with the rest of the fans. She saw she had caught his eye and stopped jumping; waiting for him to show that he had felt the connection between them. The world around them faded to oblivion and for a moment it was just them on that field. She saw Ty raise his right hand to his lips and blow her a kiss… He saw her reach for his kiss, pretend to catch it and press it against her chest. With that, she closed her eyes and smiled a smile of contentment. Then the world had slowly drifted back to their conscious and each returned to their other roles: a captain and a photographer. Nonetheless, a happiness stayed with them as they did. They knew that was the moment they had fallen in love.