By Charlotte Blessing
Jamie remembered so clearly how her new addiction had begun. Really, it had been nothing more than a coincidence. Work had been crummy, mainly because the flock of immature students she was supervising this time around, and she had craved a cup of strong coffee to drown her desperation. The only decent place to go had been Java House, despite the high risk of running into some of the students.
Here she was, in Kenya, a country that had little to boast of, except corrupt leaders and flavorful coffee beans, and yet, a good cup of coffee was almost unattainable. The good beans went to export, and the in-country residents had to make do with second grade beans. Java House was an American-owned coffee joint and somehow, it managed to get a share of the first grade beans. But no one asked how.
"I'll just have a black coffee, please." Jamie gave her small order to the young African waitress whose hair was a funky mess of delicate braids.
The only free table had been the last one before the caf transformed into an Internet kiosk. Besides boasting of the best coffee, the popular cafe also hosted the best digital lines. The clientele was as cosmopolitan as the United Nation's head office: missionaries, Rastafarians, students, business executives. This was the place to make an international phone call.
"Thanks." Jamie smiled to the waitress. She tasted the hot coffee, burnt her tongue, but immediately the burden of stress and irritation evaporated. She leafed through the local newspaper, until a crying voice caught her attention.
"I never thought it would be like this. I can't do it much longer. I will crack. Awful." The female voice behind Jamie changed into some Indian dialect that Jamie couldn't identify. But sounding from the tone of the voice, the speaker was pretty upset, no desperate.
"Please don't tell mother what I told you about his horrible parents. Are the girls there?" The distressed voice died, and Jamie guessed that whoever was on the other of the line was asking some young girl to hurry to the phone. Suddenly the shrieky voice chattered away in the same Indian dialect again, this time in a much better state. Jamie was nosy like a child. She turned her head slowly and glanced at the woman right behind her. She was her age, maybe around thirty, and dressed in a beautiful, orange-florescent sari. Her jet-black hair was thick as a horse's tail.
"Okay, give me back to your mother again," the Indian woman said, her voice crisp as a new day. Jamie imagined how the woman had been talking to first her sister and then a niece. In her head, Jamie began to spin a story, the new addiction of her otherwise trivial life: The woman with the jet-black hair had entered into an arranged marriage, and she had never met her husband until she had arrived in Kenya. Now, she was overwhelmed with married life and its endless demands. No, even better, the woman had discovered that her husband was a charlatan, a womanizer with several girlfriends. And now the young lady wanted to go back home, to India where her sister was. Where her parents were, but of course, she was aware of the risks: Ostracism by her own people.
The next time, Jamie had been at Java House for a lunch meeting. She had stayed afterwards. "I need to grade some essays and I kind of like doing it here, surrounded by people," she explained herself and settled into her work.
"But I have already booked the trip," the voice exclaimed. Jamie stopped in the middle of the sentence she had trouble understanding. Why couldn't students write decently anymore?
"I don't understand." The brief statement was followed by a long silence. Now and then the man added a grunt, a hum, or a no.
"I thought we had agreed to try one more time. I am sticking to my promise. I think we can make itÉ if you really want to." Was he going to burst into tears? In public. Suddenly Jamie was concerned. And she didn't even know him. But the man was in pain.
Jamie felt a shot of guilt rushing through her head. Had his wife just dumped him? He sounded so honest, but maybe he was a monster once the front door was closed?
"What about the kids? I miss them so badlyÉ I want them to come. I have a right too." The voice demanded the last wish. Jamie bit her pen, pretending to be thinking. She stole a glance at the middle-aged man: handsome and fit. A lot of gray hair. Why had his wife given up?
"Are you seeing someone else?" the man suddenly asked. He looked up, toward Jamie. She quickly dropped her head and focused on the essay in front of her. It's not my fault, she convinced herself. She imagined that any second the man would come storming over to her table, requesting to know why she had been eavesdropping. But of cause he didn't.
Jamie couldn't help noticing how the nameless man covered his face in his two hands. Jamie felt sorry for him. He sat there for at least five minutes before he stumbled up from his chair and walked out, without paying.
No way I am ever going to make a call from here. Everything is public knowledge. No way. Jamie's lips twisted into an awkward smile.
It was another week before Jamie spotted the middle-aged man again, in the very same place. He looks happy, Jamie thought as she pulled out a chair. She ordered a cup of caf latte. This was a great table. Better than the movies.
"Darling," the man said into the phone in a loud, chirpy tone, "Will you marry me?" He smiled to Jamie.
A new twist to the tale was already weaving itself into Jamie's old version.