Across the hall from my college hostel room lived a guy who ironed his pants to near death. He was the studious and focused type that parents dream of. Never drank alcohol or brought girls back to his room like the rest of us rotten apples.
Pious. His nose was constantly in his books burning the candle from both ends. The great thing about him was that he never judged our hedonistic tendencies. He Never carried himself as better. He had admirable tolerance to our young idiosyncrasies. His name was Swaleh. Great chap.
The last time I saw him was in 2000 when we were clearing with the hostel administration, starting our lives as adults. We didn’t have cell phones then, just ravens. He wrote his address on a scrap of paper. “Stay in touch,” he said. We didn’t. The large tide of life swept us in different directions.
Recently I was in Mombasa for my big sister’s 50th birthday. I was meeting up with some pals at Char-Choma Bar. As soon as I walked in, guess who I saw walking out? Swaleh. Tall as I remember. A bit heavy in the midsection, but who isn't?
I stood in his way. He stopped and stared at me, puzzled. I said, “Swaleh! I will be damned. Only hills don’t meet!” He couldn’t remember me. Can’t blame him. I was very skinny, back then. A mere boy. I even had hair. Now I’m a man. I have a beard. I’m bald.
I said, “Biko, Room 112.” He stepped back and said, ‘wah wah wah wah wah.” Then we embraced. We held each other for a long time. His wife, who was behind us, stared at us with amusement. His daughter looked. When we broke the embrace he said, “my brother, we thank Allah for His grace.” I said, “Alhamdulillahi.”
For this reason, Char-Choma will always be hallowed ground for me. A place for a great reconnection, of great nostalgia and gratitude. An appreciation of a time-lapsed but also of now. It’s also a lovely place to visit because they have great food, ambience and music.