As soon as I got onto the by-pass I realised that I had forgotten to call Rubina. I had meant to do it before I left Babu’s office, where I’d gone to meet him for a short briefing. The old man was not to be hurried. He had so much to tell me. When he had paused, 2 hours later, at the end of a rather funny anecdote, I seized my chance to escape – and failed to make the call.
I drove on towards her place anyway, hoping that she would be home. I turned off at their little neighbourhood shopping centre and stepped into Maria’s mini-mart where I picked up a bottle of wine and some bites. It was only seven-thirty but the sky was dark and moody. The trees swayed frantically in the wind which swirled around the car-park blowing leaves and litter across the asphalt. My trained eye spotted a bar at the far corner of the shopping centre. I would have a swift pint in there and call Rubina.
Half-an-hour later we were in Rubina’s kitchen cooking dinner. She had opened the wine and we were making chicken curry with rice. I offered to make a side dish of her favourite ML spinach and in retaliation she made me the tiniest ugali you have ever seen. This was to thank me, she said, for turning up unexpected. She was glad that I had come by and happy that we were making a proper supper to have together.
We were having a ball in the kitchen. There was so much to catch up on. I had been away on assignment in Mombasa and we had only exchanged short conversations and not much else. I knew that Rubina was currently very busy at work and when she had called me one evening saying she had something rather important to tell me, I had asked her if it could wait until I got back to Nai. I would see her when I came for the office briefing. So here we were.
The meal was a success. I could have done with a larger ugali but Rubina’s coconut milk rice was an excellent substitute and it went very well with the chicken. I asked her why that chicken tasted so different from other currys that she had made in the past.
“I used a special ingredient.”, she said. “Lemon grass. It makes all the difference.” She stood up to clear the table and I topped up our glasses with the last of the wine. She washed and I dried, like they do on tv and when that was done we retired to the living room.
I was surprised to see the floor covered in papers and things. It looked like the contents of two drawers had been chucked all over the floor.
‘Ooops! Oh dear, I forgot about this, Woolie. Ha. Please excuse the mess; this is what I was sorting when you called. I totally forgot about it. Come sit here on this seat.”
“It’s ok, Rubina. Ha. I thought you’d been burgled! I can help you tidy it away, if you like.”
I started to pick up some documents when she reached out and took them, grabbing a whole load more from the floor.
“No no….Look…..this is my mess. I’ll sort it, thank you.” Rubina was getting somehow flustered, and I stepped back.
That was when some of the stuff that she held in her hands slipped and fell, and at the top of the pile was her passport.
“Are we going somewhere?” I asked, picking up the little blue book and turning the pages.
“If you look carefully, you will note that that’s is my Old passport. I was looking for my New one in order to make sure that it was in date.” Rubina said, putting some of the papers in order. She was obviously agitated by the thought that her passport may be lost. I picked up the remaining papers and together we put them away in the drawers.
“Try and think when you last had your kitabu.” I said, hoping to jog her memory. Rubina did not travel abroad much and I was struggling to remember myself. Was it that time during the floods?
Rubina left the room with the two drawers full of papers.
As I idly turned the pages of the expired passport, I noted the message on page 4 which read:
PASI HII INAWEZA KUSAFIRIWA KATIKA NCHI ZOTE ZA JUMUIYA YA MADOLA NA ZA KIGENI
It was also translated into English
THIS PASSPORT IS VALID FOR ALL PARTS OF THE COMMONWEALTH AND ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES
EXCEPT THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA
The bit about not travelling to SA had subsequently been deleted on the document, following the first multi racial elections: a culmination of the freedom struggle, the arrival of the age of democracy and a new South Africa, with the great Madiba Nelson Mandela as its first president.
I marveled at the idea of how one was making a political statement every time one took a passport to travel abroad. Today’s passports do not have this message and I would be interested to know of other exclusions that may have been placed on passports and over the years.
After a while Rubina returned to the living room. She was wearing a bright red dressing gown. She carried a pale cream duvet and some blue pillows. She placed the bed things on the sofa and said “You shouldn’t really drive home tonight. There’s a storm brewing and you’ve had a lot of wine. I think I’ll just make us some hot drinks, then I’ll try and have an early night.”
She went into the kitchen and a few moments later emerged with two large steaming mugs of milky cocoa. She placed mine on the small table near the sofa.
“Have a good night, Woolie”, she said, offering me her cheek. I kissed it lightly and said good night in a voice that I barely recognised. Now I watched as she flowed out of the room, in the red gown. I heard her bedroom door close, putting that final full stop to the evening.
I wondered what it was that she had wanted to tell me as I slowly drifted to sleep……….