The Friday evening with Rubina was totally awesome. Can awesome be an understatement. We had a great, wonderfully fantastic time. I use a load of adjectives but frankly it is difficult to describe that enchanted evening in words.
That was the night when I believed I had finally cracked it. I had found the secret to happiness at last. Later on, that same night my ship of optimism and expectation would crash against the black rocks sending my lifeless dreams down to the bottom of the sea.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves, no? It makes sense for me to rewind a little way, in order to first explain that it had taken me months to pluck up the courage to ask young Rubina out. I had made discreet enquiries and was pleased to learn that she was not seeing anyone. It was also crucial to know how she would feel about me asking her out given that my dear Babu was one of her clients. Would a relationship be appropriate in those circumstances? I had asked her the week before and when she said yes to going to the theatre I could not believe my luck. I felt elevated and rejuvenated and for the rest of the week I was floating several inches above the pavement.
Friday finally came and that evening, with Rubina by my side we took our seats to watch an extremely hilarious production of The importance of being Earnest. Rubina had not seen it before and she thought it was excellent. She has a brilliant sense of humour that girl and her laughter was so infectious that our sides were really aching by the end of the first part.
After the play we stopped for a bite at the Pasta Palace, you may know it, down at the corner of Loita Street. The food was great though we had to wait a while for it. The delay was most welcome. Rubina graciously suggested it was because everything was freshly made. We were having great fun, and talked about the play and and other stuff and it felt like we were old friends. Rubina looked like she was enjoying the evening and so after dinner I suggested we went dancing. She agreed and we walked to a famous nightspot just a few streets away. As we walked down the street she put her arm around mine. It was a cloudless night and there was a bright moon in the sky. I looked up at it and it smiled at me.
The club was absolutely raucous. We handed over our coats and moved into the bar area where I ordered our drinks. We found a table by the window and watched the dancers moving to the beats as the strobing lights produced eerie figures on the floor. We danced a couple of songs and sat down again. Conversation was out of the question and we made do with lip reading and hand gestures. Rubina came right up to my ear and shouted, “Take me home sir!”. I looked up and said a silent prayer of thanks.
As we queued for the coats the manager came along. He said hello to Rubina and they chatted a while before he went off again. He returned with a green plastic bag which he passed on to Rubina bowing gracefully. Rubina later told me that the manager, a former client, had offered us a complimentary bottle of wine as we had left so soon after coming in. That was pretty cool. My evening was progressing positively.
I had not drank much but I was not going to take chances with some trigger happy alcoblow copper ruining my evening. I made sure my car was secure and we got into a taxi outside the flower market. It only took a matter of a few minutes in the light evening traffic to get to my humble abode near Nairobi South B. We entered the apartment and I went round the flat quickly drawing the curtains and flicking on the lights. I led Rubina into the sitting room where she stood looking around the room at the various photos that adorned my magnolia walls. I crossed to the small kitchen and found some clean glasses. There was a half bottle of Viceroy under the kitchen sink but Rubina preferred the wine we had brought back from the club. As she settled on the sofa I carefully dimmed the lights and played my favourite Anita Baker track on the stereo.
I got myself a drink and sat next to Rubina. The slow jams and dim lights and her perfume must have gone straight to my head. That is probably why I reached out and took her left hand in both of mine. I was just about to clear my throat and say something clever.The smart girl removed her hand swiftly and reached over for her glass, thus breaking the spell. She sat back in the sofa and turned to me smiling sweetly.
“Woolie”, she said, making each letter of the name sound like pure honey to my ears.
“I’m going to tell you a little story. Sit back next to me but do not interrupt. You will get a chance to ask questions.” She brought her forefinger to her lips in a shhhhh gesture.
The lawyer Rubina now had the floor. She spoke quietly and clearly, telling a story that she must have told so many times before, it seemed because she spoke without hesitation or deviation. She knew how to tell a tale.
She looked at me and began, “I believe you once lived in Oxford, Woolie, Babu told me you know it quite well.” I nodded, waiting for her to continue.
“Perhaps then, you knew the Abingdon Road and the football ground at Grandpont.” Again I nodded as I recalled the busy road where many students had their digs. Rubina continued. She told of a young man who worked with a local building firm whose offices were right next door to the football ground.This was way before your time though, the autumn of 1980 and the young man was called Peter. Malo
The ever cheerful Malo was popular with his colleagues and his employers valued his work These were boom times in the construction industry and there was plenty of money to be made. Malo like many others of his generation was doing well financially and making the most of his young and single status.
Malo had taken up lodgings in the suburb of Headington where his landlady Mrs Collymore kept comfortable rooms for students and young professionals. Malo had remained in these easy surroundings for a number of years having established an excellent relationship with his landlady during his time as a student.
On a Friday morning, much like any other, Peter Malo came down to breakfast and as always Mrs Collymore also had his lunch box and flask ready. She wished him a good day as she busied herself in the kitchen with the radio tuned in to the morning drive time show, playing pop tunes.
Malo would have walked down to the bus stop on the London Road to catch a number 2 bus. At that time of the morning the journey took closer to half an hour as the traffic went crawled down Headington Hill and past South Park. At St Clement’s the bus would stop to take on more passengers before proceeding over the Magdalen bridge and on towards the High Street and the city centre. Most passengers disembarked at the bus stop outside the big HMV store on Cornmarket Street and Malo would walk down St Aldates, towards the river before turning right into Speedwell Street and down the lane which led to the building site entrance.
The Site Manager would be there to open the small gate as he always did. He was a middle aged Yorkeshire man of slight build. Together they pushed the large gates open, started up the compressors and other equipment getting everything ready for work.
This was no ordinary Friday. Just after 3.45 pm a young lady carrying a large hand bag of black leather knocked at Number 99 New Cross Road. When Mrs Collymore answered the door the young lady asked for Peter. Mrs Collymore replied that Peter was on his way home from work, for being a Friday, he finished at 3.00 pm. She admitted the young well presented lady into her house on account of her being a friend of Peter’s and asked her to wait in the front room. She made the girl a cup of tea and went back to her ironing in the kitchen which was at the back of the house.
After a few more minutes had passed Mrs Collymore heard the front door slam as Peter Malo let himself in. He made his way straight to the kitchen, just as he always did, taking his flask and lunch box out of his back pack for washing. His landlady informed him that he had a visitor waiting in the front room. A nice young lady, she said. She urged him to go in saying she would bring them some fresh tea.
A slightly bemused Malo entered the front room to greet his visitor. He was half way into the room when he stopped in his tracks. For lying on the brown sofa and fast asleep was a small baby girl, no more than two months old. Mrs Collymore arrived shortly after carrying the tea things on a tray. They looked at one another in silence taking in this new set of events.
It slowly became apparent that this quietly sleeping baby was the only person in the front room. The lady had smuggled the baby into the house hidden in the large black handbag. She had then left her here for them to find. She had let herself out of the house ever so quietly. She had abandoned her baby!
Wait! There was a note. A simple plain piece of paper on the sofa beside the baby with a short, terse message.
‘Dear Peter meet your daughter. Please look after her. I have tried but I cannot go on. Jennifer‘
A much disturbed Malo tried to explain to Mrs Collymore that he knew nobody called Jennifer He had not had a relationship with anyone of that name. There must be some kind of mistake.
They looked in the big bag and found some baby things; clothes, bottles, formula. There was also a birth certificate and a baby record book detailing various immunisations and vital measurements. Peter Malo was now quite literally in a state of shock and awe.
Mrs Collymore took charge of the situation. She believed that the first thing to do was to call the police. They would soon find this Jennifer and get her to take back her baby.
That was not the way it worked. The police said that would send over someone from social services to pick up the child. They would wait for the mother to make contact before deciding what course of action to take with her. Perhaps she was in need of treatment. It was unlikely that they would give her the baby any time soon.
Peter was disturbed. If social services took the baby she would be fostered and perhaps put up for adoption. Could he let this happen to his child? Was this little girl his child?
There were a thousand things going on in his mind. He asked Mrs Collymore to describe her, what she had looked like, this Jennifer. Perhaps it was someone he knew by another name. The landlady could not be more vague. She had said Jennifer was quite tall, with short hair, or perhaps it was short with long hair. She wore a blue skirt and a red shoes. Perhaps it was the shoes that were blue. It was hopeless.
On the inside of the baby book there was an address. Their only hope. Malo asked Mrs Collymore to get the baby ready while he called for a taxi. Perhaps Jennifer had gone straight back to the home address on the book. Mrs Collymore had not seen her carry any luggage so it made sense that she would have to go back home to collect it. They could get to her before she made her escape.
Mrs Collymore refused. This was was not her business, she told Peter Malo. She then launched into a blistering attack on the promiscuity and the youth of today. Peter watched spellbound as a total transformation took place in the erstwhile kindly landlady. She reminded him that she had a very strict policy about no children or pets. Would he kindly therefore take his baby away and make arrangements to collect the rest of his belongings.
Peter Malo was furious. He took the little child in his arms and went out. He did not know where to go and he walked the streets for a long time trying to think things through. He figured it was only a matter of time before the baby woke. She would need feeding and changing and most of all she would want her mother.
A few minutes later with a screaming baby he called into the ‘three bears’ bed and breakfast and took a room. He changed the baby and gave her a wash in the sink. He got her some clean dry clothes and gave her some milk. The now dry and fed baby had stopped crying and was lying on the bed seemingly content.
There was a phone in their room and Malo called his married older sister who lived in Brighton. She listened quietly as he explained the situation. When he had finished she suggested that he come down to Brighton and they could work something out together.
When Malo got to Brighton his sister said she would help him with the the child whilst he got himself back on his feet. She advised him to take a quick paternity test. The results came through and he was not altogether surprised. He was now officially the biological father of the girl.With these results he was able to complete the official business of adoption as the natural father.
Dealing with all these matters and recalling how old, childless Mrs Collymore had treated him that day had given Malo something to think about. He had previously taken family for granted. The support from his sister and her family which had enabled him to get on his feet was an invaluable lesson. He was determined that his little girl would never feel rejected or alone. He would look after her just like other single parents did. It was going to be him and his girl against the world.
Rubina stopped suddenly. It was late and I could see she that was tired. The story had taken something out of her. I realised that I had been wrong. It was quite plain to see that she had never told this story in such detail before.
“So Woolie, I am still looking for Jennifer. I need to know what happened to her.” I took her hand again and she looked at me.
“I need to do this so that I can get on with the rest of my life.” she said. I nodded. Taking it all in.
“By the way, did your Pa ever marry?” I asked her. She shook her head. “ He said that was not for him. He was not the marrying kind”
Rubina will be here soon and and perhaps I ‘d better stop typing. We’re going to watch another play tonight ‘Taming of the shrew’