Kazungu. That is what he used to call me. Full of warm approval, he would say, Kazungu aren’t you buying some today?
He was a boy of short stature. He always wore the same red tshirt, a jersey with ‘Rooney’ written on the back. But sometimes when I think of it I want to believe that he had more than one because he always looked clean. Or maybe I only saw him when he had decided to wear it. I don’t know.
He sold roasted peanuts on the streets of Kicukiro and he did it like it was the best job ever. If he made a lot of money from his business, I don’t know, but he always looked happy and his customer service deserved gratitude: He didn’t keep me waiting for long. He always greeted me with an effortless smile even on those days when he was very sure that I wasn’t buying.
I was cool with it. I always returned his greetings, and told him if I was going to buy or not. Until, a friend of mine told me that she can’t imagine how I was a friend with that kind of person after he had waved at me. She said that he wasn’t someone one should know. Yazaguteza abantu, she told me.
I was 16, and you know what 16 is all about; a good dose of self-doubt that makes you seek approval from everyone you consider cool. Needless to say, I started to feel uncomfortable with the guy. I tried my best to draw the thickest line between us. I stopped buying the roasted peanuts. I started walking on the opposite side of the road, and one day when he asked me why I no longer buy, I adopted a scornful tone to tell him that his products weren’t RBS approved. I don’t know if that hurt him as I intended, but with the shallowness of most 16 year olds, I walked home feeling proud.
Weeks later, I was at the Kicukiro center bus stop, a conductor yelling at me. “There is no way I’m letting someone go without paying this time. You should know that I didn’t come to Kigali to bury a dog”
I tried to explain to him that I thought I had the coins, that I might have lost them in the bus from Nyamirambo to town, but he kept looking at me as if he had woke up with the intention of finishing someone before the day ends. He had a breath that would make you drunk. He was a total stranger, but he went on to accuse me of always having the same excuse for not paying.
When almost half of the Kicukiro population had gathered to witness live how it was going to unfold between me and the conductor, someone in a fake Manchester United jersey, and a washing bowl full of roasted peanuts on his arms walked in. He asked me what was wrong and I watched him in silence as he exchanged a few words with the conductor. He handed the conductor 200Frw with the easiness of someone who made something a hundred times more daily.
“You are the ones who spoil them” the conductor grunted as he received the coins.
I remembered when my friend told me ‘yazaguteza abantu’. I tried to mumble a thank you but I couldn’t, so I walked away with my eyes wide open; avoiding to blink so as not to let tears run down my cheeks.