It was hot and stuffy in the Market of Hearts.
The sticks that made up the walls of Mtongoto’s stall were peeling, and there was a housefly resting on one of the sticks.
Mtongoto was scooping soup from a light blue metal plate. The soup looked too watery, and the chapati in his hands was burnt. The table between Mtongoto and Nanjala was stained with blood. Nanjala crossed her legs, playing at her earring, looking at Mtongoto with vacant eyes. Somewhere at the back of her mind she was also wondering what to do next with her hair. She touched it now.
Mtongoto’s rats were running across the floor, and they would occasionally stop and sort of smile at Nanjala. Nanjala gave a half-disturbed smile to these.
“You know that price is not right, Nanji,” Mtongoto was saying.
His phone rang. He barked something in his mother tongue, soup dripping from the sides of his mouth. He put the phone on the table, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, licked his lips, and ended the call with his pinkie.
“But you know how much time I took to repair it after that mad tenant you gave me last. My heart almost looks brand new now, it will take just a few more months to be done with the final refurbishing, and I need a normal tenant this time. Of course the madness--or whatever it was--of Kibogs was a bit exciting, I won’t deny, but please, go easy on me this time. I know I don’t give you much, but I’m also understanding the game better, and I’m planning on making some sacrifices on my part, too, to make this a better stay, he will give you good reports, I promise.” Nanjala said. They seemed to be too much of an effort, these words, and she seemed to be getting hysterical at some points.
Mtongoto’s expression changed. Nanjala could feel the coolness, the distance, as Mtongoto stood up, his back to her. “This is no place for you, young girl. Go.”
“I’ll lower the price then! Just give me something…please,” Nanjala cried.
“I have seen all sorts of people here. People all over Africa have travelled to this district just to see me because I do my work well, give tenants as appropriate as possible. People want lighter skin, land, favourable politics, thinner noses, and all these, because of the very fact that they are bought, must come with other tenants like fear, insecurity, slavery. It’s like a receipt, my dear. You come here seeking men. But unlike the others, you struggle. You struggle in your asking, and this makes me struggle. It is like you want to dignify, sanitize your demands. There is no dignity in this business. If you seek dignity, keep your soul. Dignity is an honesty sort of business. You’ll need some tolerance of ambiguity and something like...celebration of self," -- he threw his hands up here, as if demonstrating the celebration, and continued, "We have never been a people to take the easy way out, after all. But where there is demand I will not refuse to supply.”
Nanjala only looked at him, and then at her hands, empty.
She stood up and walked away, looking back once, slow and uncertain.