Theophile felt like a hundred fools…a thousand rather, and he wanted to break the delicate wine glass he held in his hand, and stab himself in the neck with the remains, when he saw her walk into the hall, looking lost and smiling at last, at one of his students.
The girl with the purple cat-eye glasses.
She had dark maroon lipstick today. So dark, one would have to surely wipe it off to kiss her. He thought and took a large swig of his wine before nodding at the relentless Selena, who insisted on being called Selene. She was going all French and said it was only a matter of three months- “Three,” she had put up three fingers -“before I will speak like I’ve lived in France all my life! Mark my words and mark them well,” she’d said in excellent French at her two friends who rolled their eyes at her.
Theophile liked her plenty; bright, sharp, bubbly and the student who made him feel most welcome during his first class. How could he not like her?
Where is she? He searched around discreetly and at last spotted the girl with purple glasses now heading to the drinks counter with her friend, what’s-her-name? Theo racked his memory as he extricated himself from Selena’s energies to get another drink.
Christine…Celestine…Celeste, shit! It definitely had an –ine at the end!
He didn’t pride himself on remembering people’s names and merely did so of people who struck him from the first interaction. Like Selene for example. He was sure he would’ve remembered purple glasses had they actually conversed about a month ago at the chocolate store they had first met.
Oh why have I not learnt English all my life! And there had been planet of chances too but his foolish pride wouldn’t let him. An incident as an exchange student had led to his decision that anyone was only ever to be worthy of his time if they knew his language or at least took time to learn it. If they didn’t, then communicating with him couldn’t be that crucial, could it? And living in France all his life- travelling only occasionally to places he didn’t need to speak extensively – he’d gotten away with his act.
Until Kenya happened. He had meant to visit only a while but two months after his planned departure, he had been forced to take a course in English. It was a requirement, he was told when he expressed his wish to stay some more and help with a class or two while at it.
“It will help in communicating with the parents, who will wish to discuss their children’s progress sometime,” Jerome, his long-time friend and Chairman of the French department had said, swinging in his chair and enjoying Theo’s irritation at the news.
“You could even take up Swahili. Would make you super popular with the students….” He added and Theo had narrowed his eyes warning him not to push it.
Maybe she knows French. Maybe, just maybe, thought Theo hopefully. However, the more he approached, the more trepidation he felt even as he chided himself to stop being stupid. What’s the worst that could happen really?
He had gone through these motions many times before with other pretty women. Only, after the first admission of his not being able to speak English well, they were usually so far taken in by his being French and a gentleman, that they took his stumbling English as a humbling, non-issue that made him all the more human and approachable to them.
Purple Glasses, he feared, would probably vomit in disgust if she heard him speak English. She had an impatient streak. Last time when he’d said the safe “Hello”, she had responded with a quick smile and promptly went back to selecting her chocolates- like…like he was a fly that buzzed into her face and she’d swatted him away. That’s how he had felt, swatted. And he was irked!
And intrigued and curious…who wouldn’t be? He thought defensively, openly staring at her as he got closer.
She was literally in skinny jeans at this event! In a room full of females all made up, in short dresses and high heels, she settled for a loose bun; the maroon lips her only highlight. Her cat eye glasses and her funky customized T-shirt nevertheless, clearly stated she didn’t struggle with style so it could only be that she could not be bothered to dress up. What with her black skinny jeans, and -not bearable ballet flats- but downright colorful sandals like she was lounging in the house or heading out for a swim? Even her friend, in the dressy pencil skirt and wedges…PHILLIPINE!
“Philippine!” he called pleasantly to his student and she turned and smiled readily at him.
“Bonsoir monsieur! Looking dashing!” She complimented and instantly demanded he buys them drinks thanks to the promise he made in class yesterday to whoever asks. He smiled indulgently and hazarded a peek at the friend who had a slight frown on her face and a look of…interest?
“We’ve met,” She pointed out and swiftly killed Theo’s rehearsed gracious introduction. For a moment he was tempted to play the fool but her impatience made him think twice. She didn’t seem the kind to go back into her vault to confirm a chance meeting and so promptly, he agreed and took her straightforward lead.
“I never got your name though,” he added and instantly cursed himself. He hated the way he sounded in English; like a 3 year old learning to read out loud for the first time! Argh! He cringed inside.
“Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! Your English sucks,” she puckered her lips and looked at him condescendingly over her glasses, with a look almost daring him to be offended. And even if Philippine hadn’t laughed and Theo himself hadn’t seen the joke in her eyes, he’d still have let out the sound between a laugh and a surprised gasp of delight, because she’d said the statement in French!
“You speak French!” he exclaimed and almost hugged her before she and Philippine shook their heads in.
“That is literally the only French she knows,” Philippine said and Theo’s grin died on his cheeks. The former went on to explain that it was what their scornful high school teacher told her friend during the first and only French orals she ever underwent.
“Yeah, that and Bonjour…” Purple glasses added before she picked her cocktail from the counter and sucked on it. “Oh!” she groaned deeply and drank some more.
Theo’s hopes were slowly dwindling even as his desire skyrocketed.
“Oh! She’s Rahab by the way,” Philippine pointed to the girl before picking up her own cocktail as the monsieur gave his order and card to the bartender. Pointing at him, she added “And this is my lecturer, Monsieur Theo.”
The monsieur smiled briefly in acknowledgement at Rahab who nodded vigorously in response; her mouth only leaving her straw to say, “Thanks for this by the way,” she raised her now half-full glass at him. Thumb pointed at Philippine she confided,”A hundred years of friendship and she was making me buy my own drink after showing up to her party.” She shook her head in mock disappointment at her friend who laughed incredulously and Theo found himself grinning once again as the bartender handed back his card.
“She hadn’t even planned on coming! Look at her! “Philippine pointed to Rahab’s slippers and looked to Theo for support.
“Heartbreaking,” agreed Theo shaking his head sardonically.
He had hesitated for a moment there; wanting badly to tease back and be familiarly at ease with Rahab but afraid she might take it as a sign of actual disapproval on his part. Would she feel embarrassed? He had wondered. Would she lose her air of abandon and become self-conscious if I, a complete stranger, took a jab at her?
And now, eliciting a gurgle of laughter from her, his heart soared and he was glad he’d gambled.
Amidst Rahab speaking up in her own defense and Theo acting as a biased mediator, taking Philippine’s side mostly to rile Rahab, he also learnt that the latter was a dancer. She had in fact come to town this late and in sandals because she had been called impromptu to stand in for a girl who had cancelled at the last minute. Her performance was in about twenty minutes.
And Theo wanted badly to enquire if it was too late to get a ticket.
Instead, to not seem overeager, he asked- in an almost indifferent voice, he hoped- about the next time she would be performing before quickly adding that he was eager to explore Nairobi’s art scene in general. And finding out she actually had a solo act in two days time, he mentally cleared his Thursday evening- as well as Saturday.
Saturday, because he was throwing a small party. He decided this after Rahab looked at her watch one last time and hugged her friend goodbye before smiling at him and walking out past the swiveling glass doors. And once outside, she had looked back to the exact spot she had left Theo, and like a guilty child caught in a crime, she’d quickly diverted her gaze and hastened away. Theo had grinned to himself like a fool.
He damn well was throwing a party at his place and his students were invited. They could definitely bring a friend.