His brush moved across the canvas, his strokes, passionate yet deliberate. His senses were dulled to everything except her; the woman who haunted his dreams and filled his thoughts. Who was she? Where did he see her? Had she passed him on the street? Did she sit next to him in the matatu? Was she a friend of a friend? Or a friend of a friend of a friend?
When he closed his eyes, he saw her face perfectly. It had been a month since he began to see her and now, the face that had barely piqued his interest had become his obsession. His friends were worried. She was all he talked about, wondering where, if he had seen her at all. It was his gift and curse, his memory. It was what made him such a good artist but it was also turning him into a mad man.
He took a step back from the canvas and looked into the eyes that were the source of his insanity. Big beautiful eyes. But sad. His heart ached. Why was she so sad? Why couldn’t he find her?
The questions were endless and his head was beginning to throb incessantly. He put his brush down. He hadn’t eaten since the day before and his stomach was beginning to protest. There were days when he went without a meal but not because money was an issue. He didn’t earn much on an artist’s income but he had enough to sustain his passion.
He threw a shirt over his paint-stained vest and went to the soko. Night was just about to fall but there was still enough light from the sinking sun for mothers to allow their children to play outside. He watched a group of young boys kick around the paper ball and he envied them. All they had to worry about was getting the ball passed the skinny goalkeeper. He missed the simplicity of boyhood.
Mama mboga smiled when she saw him approach her kibanda.
“Msanii, sasa! Umepotea! Ile picha ya mtoto wangu haikuisha?”
He smiled at her banter. Ever since she found out he was an artist, she had completely forgotten his name, choosing instead to refer to him as ‘msanii’.
“Iko karibu kuisha. Nipatie tu one week.”
The lie slipped out too easily. The only proof of Mama mboga’s portrait was a blank canvas which he had set aside two months ago. Since ‘the woman’ began to appear in his dreams, he could think of nothing else, let alone paint anything.
He stood by as he waited for Mama mboga to give him his usual order.
He barely noticed the movement by his side, his attention diverted by the rowdy boys’ soccer game.
He heard a conversation ensue between the customer and Mama mboga but paid it no mind.
He turned to find Mama mboga holding up a black bag filled with chopped sukuma, tomatoes and onions. He smiled handing her the money. He turned to greet the other customer and froze. The woman. There she was. Just like she appeared in his dreams, only now, one of her eyes was bruised and swollen.
He knew he looked stupid standing there and staring at her but the words were simply not coming out. He opted to nod and walked away before he did anything stupid.
His heart was beating rapidly. He’d found her! She was real! He wasn’t crazy. His friends were really going to eat it the next time they would meet.
He had found her, he thought with disbelief as he closed the door behind him. He set the vegetables down and sank into his sofa, deep in thought.
How was he going to help her? He had to help her. He had to see her smile. And even more importantly, how was he going to tell her that she was literally the woman of his dreams and that he was in love with her, without sounding like a crazy mad man?