Back in Babu’s office building they have this fellow who collects and distributes mail for all the offices on their floor. His name is Carlos and he has worked there for many years. His is a demanding job looking after the postal affairs of nearly thirty businesses. The post-room at the end of the corridor is his official HQ from where he issues decrees and directives. He has a staff of three harassed junior clerks working under him and between them they sort all the inbound and outgoing mail.
Last week saw me hunting for Carlos, sort of.
I had called into the office on Monday morning to see Babu about an ongoing assignment. To cut short a long story, I am currently doing some undercover work for the boss of a Mombasa abattoir. I had arrived early and so as I waited for the big man, we chatted with young Diana at reception, sipping sweet milky tea. She giggled away at my funny stories until she suddenly remembered something important and said, “ Oooooh I nearly forgot. Carlos said to tell you that he is holding a letter for you in the post room. Perhaps you can pop in to see him.”
I drained my mug, thanked Diana and went off to find Carlos. I knocked at the door and entered the Post Room to find the 3 clerks in rolled up shirt-sleeves, busy sorting away the morning post. There was a single ceiling fan above that slowly moved the warm air in the room. The lady clerk told me that Carlos had popped out but would be back soon. I did not want to hold them up so I just said, “Please tell Carlos that Woolie is around and he will be waiting for him in Babu’s office.”
With that I went back to reception and had another look at the morning papers.
Babu arrived shortly after. We went into his office and made notes about my abattoir investigations. He then brought me up to date on other business stuff. By the time we were finished, it was nearer one o’clock, almost lunch-time, the best time of the day if you happened to be with the big man. Babu stood up to put on his jacket. He hesitated, remembered something and picked up the phone to make a call. I grasped the opportunity, excused myself and ran down the corridor to the Post Room. Locked! A hand-written notice on the door said simply: Gone to lunch. Back at 14:15
There is a small restaurant just round the corner from Babu’s office where they do some delicious tortillas at lunch-time. Babu must be quite the regular there because we were ushered straight through to a secluded seating area at the back. The lunch-time crowd was getting quite big and noisy. The lady who came to take our order had a lovely broad smile on her round face. “She’s the owner,” Babu said. He went on to explain how she and her young son had escaped the fighting in Eritrea with nothing but the clothes that they wore. “Eritrea was at war with Ethiopia,” Babu continued. “And yet it was a group of Ethiopian businessmen who helped her to set up this place. Amazing, isn’t it?”
We spent a very pleasant afternoon sampling delicious Ethiopian, Eritrean and Yemeni treats and wines. It was close to 4.00 pm when we went back to the office. The rest of the team were just wrapping up for the day. I went up to the Post Room. There was a ‘closed’ sign on the little window panel. The opening hours listed on the door were 0745 – 1645 Monday to Friday. The time was 4.20.pm.
I went back to my little flat at South B, had a quick change of clothes and headed back to town. I had a couple of drinks at one of the local joints and exchanged some gossip with the usual suspects. Town was boring, little sign of action. There was nothing much I fancied and I went back home.
Next morning I was at the Post Room at opening time. No Carlos. The 3 clerks were there. They too were waiting for Carlos, in order to gain access to their office. I asked them to get Carlos to find me as soon as he arrived. They nodded, looking doubtful. I went straight back to reception and was surprised to see Babu was already in. He explained that Commander Ruby had telephoned requesting an urgent meeting in his office. She was due any moment. I decided to make myself scarce; we did not see eye to eye on a small number of issues, the Commander and I.
I walked past the Post Room where it was clear that Carlos had not arrived. The 3 clerks were still waiting by the door reading newspapers. I nodded and got into the lift going down. At the ground floor I signed myself out and stepped into the bright Nairobi sunshine. I walked along Wabera Street towards Kenyatta Avenue. I turned right, heading in the direction of Kimathi Street. I was waiting to cross the road when someone placed a hand on my shoulder. I turned. “Jambo Kondoo! How are you doing?” It was Carlos.”I’m fine, Carlos.” I said. “You’re a difficult man to get hold of”. He smiled. The traffic stopped and we crossed the road together. We stopped at the opposite pavement and Carlos said, “So you got my message from Diana?” As I nodded he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a blue envelope.
He held the envelope, watching me closely. He said, “I bet you don’t know who it’s from but I’d recognise the handwriting anywhere, seen it so many times, see?” He had a rather big grin on his face. I put out my hand expecting him to give me the letter.”’Ah ah ah. No, no no no! First tell me who you think it’s from.” He said, wiping spittle from his chin with the back of his hand.
I wondered what was going on. “Carlos, give me the letter.” I said, coldly. “Who is it from, who is it from?” he asked, almost childishly, now hopping from one foot to the other. Carlos was holding the envelope high above his head now. I tried to reach for it but he was taller than me. Carlos now looked like some nutter. He held me back with one arm, holding the envelope away from me. We were pushing and shoving about now, right there on the busy pavement.
This idiot had gone too far. I watched the traffic, bidding my time. When the cars stopped, I suddenly shouted, “Carlos look out!” in fake panic. Carlos turned round to see what the danger was, letting his envelope arm drop. I snatched the blue envelope from him, leapt over the street railings and darted across the road again, just as the traffic was moving off. He could not chase after me. He watched me, surprised and helpless as I walked across the second half of the dual carriageway.
Half an hour later I was seated in the local pub near my flat. I had a corner table facing the door and was waiting for the waiter to open my beer bottle and go away. Carlos had said “I would recognise the handwriting anywhere.” So would I, mate. So would I. As I opened the blue envelope and fished out Rubina’s letter an old man walked up to the jukebox, popped in his coins and selected a tune.