"Who is that?", he asked the shopkeeper. An old man dressed in a chaaya - how long he had gone without seeing a chaaya - and short kaftan, sitting on a stool with one leg lifted onto it. In the manner of the old man's sitting he saw a familiarity with the World, a comfortableness within it that he envied. He had felt restless since his arrival. Filled with a waiting that would explode within him. A need to do something - anything - and a feeling he could not do enough, he was falling short and wasting valuable time.
"Njaga Mbye", the old man replied, showing kola-nut stained teeth.
Ah - no wonder it had seemed familiar. At home he wouldn't have been caught dead listening to Njaga Mbye. Here now it stirred something deep within him, and it seemed at once the most beautiful sound he had ever heard in the world, and something so fundamental to his identity he did not know how he could have missed it before.
The shop was filled with bales of cloth of many colors, and in the window looking out onto the street were set kaftaan and abaaya pre-made, and other clothing he had seen the women back home wear during Juli but which he did not know the names of. There was the smell of must and age in the air. The sharp biting winds from the street did not reach in here.
"This is my friend", his friend told the shopkeeper, after they had exchanged pleasantries, and the old man reached forward to shake his hand, smiling.
"And how is Gambie then?", the old man asked. His head covered with graying hair, the remnants of a beard around his chin, looking like the hair had fallen out instead of being shaved.
"Fine", he replied, "everyone is in peace". The old shopkeeper nodded, satisfied.
"You are from Banjul?". He said yes - the answer would be long, and probably the old man would find it uninteresting, the place names he would name meaningless to a Senegalese. But he was not from Banjul, and it became suddenly important to him here to point out that fact, to not be mistaken or mis-placed.
"No", he told the shopkeeper, letting go of his hand, "Kuntaur".
"Is that far from Sairay-kunda?", the shopkeeper asked him, and he had to stifle a laugh at the old man's earnest expression.
"Not really", he said, finally. His identity could wait. The shopkeeper nodded, looking proud at his knowledge of Gambian geography.
"Well - welcome here then", the old man said, gesturing with his hand as if the City were indeed his own private domain, and he within it the receiver of guests. Or perhaps he had only meant the shop. In any case his hand returned back to its resting place at his side and he sat waiting for them to speak.
"He is the one looking for a job", his friend told the old man.
"Ah", the old man said, "wawe kai. You are in luck. My previous boy just went on holiday - he was Malian". The old man and his friend laughed, though he could not find in anything the old man had said that which was funny. He smiled. They bid the old man farewell and left soon after that.
As they walked back home he turned to his friend.
"And the job?", he asked. He had not understood in the ending of their conversation with the old man the reaching of any agreement. "Are we to talk to him again?"
His friend gave him a funny look.
"No", he replied, "you start tomorrow - didn't you hear - his other boy left".
That night as he lay on his mattress on the floor he thought about God. His friend was out working a night shift, and he was alone. Yet his loneliness now seemed only a small portion of a larger loneliness, one he had been experiencing since he got on the plane to come here, and one which waited for him every where he turned, all-embracing in its completeness. He had never prayed much, back in the Gambia. There was God in his life alright, but only in the removed, distant way there were other countries, with other men in them. He did not think of it much - and when he did he would use the defense that he was good of heart, and in the end this was all that mattered. Not praying five times a day. He would get to it someday, when he got older. When he had more time. But now he was young, and had things to do, and not enough time in the day to do them in. He said these things to much laughter to a marr-kass who had started a conversation with them on the street corner, over a baraada bubbling with attaya. The other guys laughed - the marr-kass laughed, too, even as he shook his head. On his last night his mother had spoken to him about prayer. She had commended him to Allah, and told him that this was the only thing he would have out there to protect him against any eventualities. I will pray for you, she had told him, but you must also pray as much as possible, for yourself. You come from a good family. Allah will not abandon us.
But now he did not know what to do. He had not prayed once since he arrived. Should he get up now and start? Perhaps not. Or perhaps he should... Was it too late? Allah was not, after all, fooled. Yet was He not all-forgiving? Perhaps then he should get up and begin... but would he be able to stick with it? It was in this wavering state that sleep found him, and at last bore him away into a dream of his sister pounding netetu in the backyard whilst he stood watching, his mother behind her in the kitchen from whence came the sound of fish being fried. Their chatter as they discussed the latest neighborhood gossip.
In his dream he smiled.