There are few things that I fear more than driving myself to Nairobi. When I first learned to drive I was living in a foreign country where they all drove on the wrong side of the road. The cars there were funny left-hand drives and that was what I became accustomed to. My sojourn in the foreign land soon ended however and I returned home to find that traffic rules were rarely obeyed and in any case matatu drivers were a law unto themselves. Driving into town became a nerve racking ordeal and to this day I avoid it as much as possible.
My Babu’s office had scheduled an early morning meeting for me last Thursday with one of their lawyers about an ongoing land tussle. The plan was to meet at their offices near the 20th Century down town. Parking anywhere in the CBD is always a nightmare and so I decided to take an early bus into town from my digs about forty miles away on the Nakuru highway. It was just before dawn and still quite dark when I boarded the warm bus. My fellow passengers seemed to be city worker types – all in suits and ties. Many were fast asleep, some with earphones plugged in. To my surprise and delight there were no bags of vegetables or live chickens on board and the trip into town was smooth and pleasant.
The lawyer was waiting for me at the entrance to the large building. She was in her mid-thirties, smartly dressed with a confident manner. We shook hands and she told me that her name was Rubina as she ushered me towards the big lifts. I was delighted to note that she already knew my name and had pronounced it perfectly. She asked whether I had encountered any difficulty in finding them and I replied that her directions on the phone had been first-class. The lift door opened at the 7th floor and we crossed over to her office.
Rubina ordered tea for me and coffee for herself. She was friendly and easy going and we chatted about this and that for a bit. She was expecting visitors at home later that afternoon. Her nephew and niece were visiting from Mombasa all on their own for the first time. They were sensible kids and Rubina had promised to bake them a nice cake.
We settled down to discuss the legal issues at hand and it soon became apparent that Rubina would need to take a look at the actual site that was in dispute. I had brought photographs and plans but Rubina would need to see it first hand before deciding whether to engage the services of a surveyor. I knew that she was right. She said we could go down there right away and I was quite happy to do that. I warned her that the area was at the bottom of a valley where it was always very swampy. She would need some strong wellingtons. Rubina did not see any problem with that. We would stop by her place, pick up her wellies and head off to my shamba. I now realised why Babu had recommended her.
A valet quickly brought up Rubina’s car from the car- park deep in the bowels of the building. She negotiated the city streets with a relaxed ease and soon we were heading up the Valley Road. At the top of the road Rubina turned to join the Ngong Road and after a few minutes we turned off into a quiet lane which brought us to the entrance to her apartment. She eased the car into a parking space and we went together to her apartment on the first floor.
She led the way into the well furnished flat and threw her keys on the table. She offered me a beer got herself one before turning on the pc in the corner of the room. She was looking for some important email when there was a knock at the door. She went to answer it and stood at the door talking to someone for about five minutes.
When she came back I knew there was something wrong. She explained that her neighbour’s boy from the block just across had come to tell her that his mum was unwell. Rubina told me she would quickly pop over to see her and then come back so that we could be on our way to my shamba. I suggested that perhaps I could leave and meet some other time but she would not hear of it. She promised to be back in twenty minutes. She asked me to feel at home and help myself to more beer.
After about half an hour I was getting slightly anxious. She had said 20 minutes. Where was she?. I started wandering about the flat and getting more impatient. Perhaps she had taken the poor mama to hospital. She would be back soon, I figured and poured myself some more beer. I switched on the telly and after fiddling with the remote control chanced upon a Mexican soap. I watched that for a few minutes before switching it off in dismay. I was pacing my beers now – half an hour to each beer. Nice and slow.
Another hour went by and I feared the worst. Should I call Rubina on her cell-phone? I did not want her to think I was unduly worried but she really should have got back by now. And why had she not called me? Here I was all alone a stranger in a strange house. What if someone – friend, lover should come and find me here slowly drinking the afternoon away?
I walked into the kitchen realising that I was a bit hungry. I spotted a couple of chapos in the fridge which I placed on a plate ready to warm in the microwave. Wait. Chapo now and I could say good bye to beer. Ha! The hunger would have to wait. I smiled at my own intelligence and took a long sip of the amber nectar.
On the counter top lay a recipe for the cake that Rubina was going to bake for the children. She had printed it straight off her lappy. I looked at the ingredients list again and performed a quick inspection of the contents of her store. I was in luck – I had everything that I needed to make a beautiful sponge cake.
I don’t know whether it was the beer or just my carefree attitude. I rolled up my sleeves and found an apron hanging on a hook behind the kitchen door. I gathered all the ingredients together and checked the cupboards for baking trays. Hidden in there was a dark green bottle of London Dry.
I blessed Rubina and all the planets and stars and got to work.
The first thing that I did was to mix a little oil with 180ml of cold water and 3 medium eggs.
I then added the cake mix, a little at a time, whisking the whole lot together for about 3 minutes to give a smooth and creamy mixture. I stopped to open the bottle of gin and poured myself a generous glug. It was getting near to the time when the visitors were expected. I needed to move fast and nothing helped to focus the mind like a good gin.
Next I greased the two cake tins with margarine using a piece of grease-proof paper. The instructions say grease the tins evenly and completely – I was in a hurry and the consequences of not reading that bit properly would only become apparent later.
I poured the cake mixture into the 2 tins dividing it out as evenly as possible. The tins were then placed in the middle of a preheated oven at 160 degrees. I baked them for 25 minutes until they were well risen. Once baked I removed them and turned them out of the tins. The importance of even greasing now showed itself. One of the cakes had stuck to the bottom of the tin and I had to be very careful when reconstructing it.
I spread some butter icing on the first cake and strawberry jam on the other. I placed one on top of the other to join them together. Finally I dusted the top with fine icing sugar for a frosted finish
I was still admiring my handiwork when the kids knocked at the door. I had been expecting them so I knew what to do. I got rid of the gin and beer bottles and invited them in, explaining that I was the cook. I told them that their aunt had been held up at work but she had wanted to make sure that somebody would be here to meet them when they arrived. Come and see the cake that aunty wanted us to have when she got back. That broke the ice. Soon they were telling me about their journey and how they had seen elephants, giraffe and baboons on the way.
It was nearly six pm now and I was getting anxious again. Kids are remarkable in so many ways. In a few moments they had forgotten that they were in a strange house. The young boy switched on the telly to his favourite channel. Moments later we were all 3 of us sitting there watching TV quite happily when a completely stressed out Rubina walked in. The kids jumped into her outstretched arms and she was genuinely pleased and relieved to see them.
The young girl told her aunt that cook here had baked a nice cake and could we have some now that she was home. Rubina looked at me and smiled. We had tea with lots of cake. Rubina then told the children that we would all get into aunties car to take cook back to his home.