So I was in this public place (no free advertising here!), waiting for a few friends to join me, when I heard a man coughing discreetly above me.
I looked up from the book and raised my eyebrows questioningly.
“Hello”, a tall brown man said.
“Hello”, I replied.
“How are you?”, he asked.
“I’m fine”, I replied.
He shifted his foot a bit and I reciprocated his movement. What did he want? Reading a book always makes me feel very busy and important.
“Are you busy?”, he asked softly.
“I’m reading my book”, there was a hint of apology in my voice. I pointedly looked down at my book. Little did I know this was just beginning. That this was not a man swayed by pointed hints.
“Because if you’re free, I’d like you to join me so that we can talk and get to know one another better”.
Wow. Not what I wanted to hear. I decided to be more blunt.
“No, I’m waiting for a friend”, with a pause long enough to suggest that friend may be a man.
“Oh?”, he said. And smiled. I smiled back. Perhaps this would be over now. I proceeded to read my book, and was shocked to the core when he did not walk away. Instead, he started a conversation.
“Are you from Rwanda?”, he asked. I gritted my teeth.
“No”, I said through them. Great. Another question for him to ask. Where, he wanted to know, did I come from? I said from the west. Again through gritted teeth. He started warming up good and proper. He always traveled to western Uganda, he said. Where exactly was I from?
For the love of God. I took a deep breath and told him I really wanted to finish reading my book. He stared at me. I stared back. We looked at each other for a while. As I realized this man had no problem staring at me forever, my mouth begun opening and closing like a fish. When would he look away?
I had no intention of being the first to break eye contact. I gat this.
“Why are you staring at me like that?”
No. It was not me who asked this. It was him. I stared at him more, and my mouth opened and shut a few more times.
“Am I a stranger?”, he queried, smiling gently, like one who knows a secret.
Shit. Was this a relative? You know how Africans have many. Was he a former colleague? (I’ve had quite a number of jobs, I can’t remember everyone).
“I’m a human being like you”, he explained. How, he asked me, could he be a stranger?
This I could handle. I told him I did not know him. Then I begged him to go away, as I really needed to finish my book.
I kid you not that we looked at each other again in a final eye contest for over two minutes. I could feel the sweat on the back of my neck. I was not used to this sort of stress.
He smiled one last time, and walked away.
That was awkward.