It was Sunday evening. Asha did her nails and waited to close. The henna would take at least an hour to set and that would only get her to midnight. Out on Biashara Street, a lone car drove by every few minutes. The headlights illuminated the shop for a second and then left the low light of the hurricane lamp. Gogo said bright light affected the herbs.
She thought about telling her grandmother that they should just close up but gogo was still grounding the nettle leaves in the back. The steady thump, thump, thump and gogo’s low humming were the only sounds in the shop.
Asha was trying to remember which song her grandmother was humming to, when the girl walked in. She was a small thing. Her hood jumper hid her face like a hare covering its head with its ears. Asha waited for her to speak first. The girl stood between the door and the counter. She was surrounded by shelves of ground herbs and flowers and plants in pots all around the store. She hesitated before speaking, and when she did, it was about three minutes before she stopped.
Her name was Michelle. When she was 12, an accident in the kitchen had led to a burn on her face. The scar had been there her whole life but now she was in college and there was a boy. He would love her if only she did not have a scar. Asha called for her grandmother. She handled the miracles.
Gogo emerged from the back with a fine green dust settled on her from her silver grey hair to the hem of her flower print dress. Asha explained the problem in Tugen. Her grandmother led the girl closer to the hurricane lamp.
‘You say it was a burn, from what? Water, uji, a sufuria?” Gogo asked.
‘The edge of a hot pan.”
“How long ago?”
“Almost 10 years.” Michelle replied
“And this boy…” She stopped, the girl said nothing.
Gogo stepped away from her. “We can only even the skin tone. The scar will be less noticeable but it will be there. Your neck is stiff and I think sore, we have something for that too.”
The girl said that she would take it, gogo told Asha what was needed. Once the ingredients were all assembled, she started making the girl’s remedies.
“How do I know it will work? I mean there are no tests.”
“It works because it’s true.” Gogo said. Asha tried not to smile. The old woman was terrible with people.
“My friend says places like this should be shut down.”
“The same friend who won’t love you if you don’t lose the scar?”
“Yes, but I want it gone too.” Gogo got back to the nettle, Asha just saw her smile in the darkness as she went back to the counter.
“My grandmother says a woman in love is like a tortoise turned upside down. She will flail towards whichever side might make her upright again.” Asha said coming back.
“You don’t know him.”
Asha handed the two brown bags to her, careful not to let them touch her nails. “The paste is for your neck. Mix the green powder with two parts water for your scar. Apply both twice a day.”
The girl left looking bothered and relieved. Asha’s nails were done and she went in the back to clean them up. They were black with streaks of brown in them.
“That girl is back.” Gogo spoke over the pounding.
Michelle was back and a lot calmer than before. “I need something else.”
“What would that be?” Asha asked.
“A girl in school said you have a truth potion. I want that.” Michelle said.
“That will be 550 for one dose.”
Michelle looked into Asha’s eyes. There was no trickery or malice. Asha would not ask why and Michelle would not ask how. Asha watched the little thing go, her bundle held close to her chest.
Gogo said that it was time to close up. Headlights lit up the store window as Asha and her gogo stepped out of their little herb shop to head home, it said Chuma’s Homeopathy Remedies.
She sat away from the rest in class. The akala sandals, foot long dreadlocks, and the waist beads were too much for them. Nairobi was chic and modern. Asha and her grandmother’s time was past, at least until a boil started pulsing in their armpit.
The decision to get a nursing degree had not been hers. Her grandmother had insisted that the skills were transferable and traditional did not mean stoic. Gogo had been right but as compared to the shop, the university was dead. It was faithless and cold.
“They think that they are marching forward with their gadgets and their gods. The truth is hidden from them like the weak cassava hides its roots.” Her grandmother had said this one night at the shop after a hard day at school. Asha was irritable and drained. That is what those zombies did to her, sipped at her energy.
On this Monday, she was operating on three hours of sleep and congestion from packing up all the powder gogo had been grinding the night before. She had survived her morning classes with a 2 empty desk radius around her (guess the tie and die skirt didn’t do it for them either).
Under the huge Jacaranda tree, she waited for her last class of the day. Someone scurried past her quickly followed by what looked a sack of potatoes with legs. Asha turned away from the sun to see Michelle turn abruptly and face a man with the complexion of a ripe mango tower over her. Michelle was transformed, the anger radiated from her in waves. Her dark skin shone and even though Asha could not hear what she was saying, she would not want to be on the receiving end of it. Asha turned back to look up at her tree with a smile.
She walked down Biashara street later that day, nodding to the old Indian ladies who sometimes came to the shop and stopping to look at fabrics. Her grandmother was at the counter when she got to the shop. She was beading today. Asha told her about Michelle, gogo laughed. She really liked the part about the red-faced fat boy.
It was busier on Mondays. Two teenage girls came in for a cream to treat acne. An elderly man who was fighting a losing battle against indigestion flirted with gogo. She said he was ok for a Kipsigis. The woman who the beads were for came at around 9. As gogo double checked them, she looked around and tried to have a conversation with Asha.
“What is your name?” The woman asked.
“Mwanaisha, but they call me Asha.”
“You don’t look like a Mswahili.”
“My father was one and my mother thought it was pretty,” Asha said “What do I look like?”
“You look like your grandmother, a Mkale.”
Her grandmother stepped up to the woman then, she was in her late twenties. “We are Tugen, Kalenjin is a word the mzungu brought. Wear them day and night. And keep taking the doctor’s medicine. It is not like we will cancel each other out.”
“I hope these are good, Mark is getting impatient. He wants a son, it is his mother. She closed up my womb but Wanjiku said you knew your stuff.” She paid and left.
About an hour later, gogo told Asha to close the door. She asked if they were leaving early but did not get an answer. Then her grandmother told her to place the blue water lily in front of the door. It was called Ituruk and only turned up in rivers just before the drought. The lily floated on a wide pot specially made for it. Asha did what she had been asked and went behind the counter to stand next to gogo.
What looked like a gang crossed the road and stood at the shop door. Most of the large door was glass and the rest was wood. She saw the clear outline of an upper torso like a potato sack. He was shouting something about witchcraft and teaching the old bitch a lesson. He demanded that we open the door, the other three men with him made loud sounds of assent.
Gogo did not move. The energy in the shop changed. Just as Asha wondered whether the cactus in the corner was moving, a loud bang sounded at the door. It was a hockey stick. Bang, bang, bang. The shouting became ragged and then hoarse but he did not stop banging.
After fifteen minutes of that, the other men tried to stop the potato sack. Then one was gone and the other two ran off a few minutes later. The hockey stick split and fell to the ground, so he started hitting the door with his fists. There was a gasp from him when his hands began to bleed from the impact with the door. But he did not stop beating his fists on it.
Asha and her gogo left through the back door.
On Tuesday morning, a city council officer found a man dead at the front of Chuma’s Homeopathy Remedies. His fists had been worn down to the bone. The door that was splattered with his blood remained intact.