We were introduced on shaky ground. With the uneasiness that passes between a salesman and an interested buyer. Questions and concerns ring out loudly, unspoken.
“Am I about to be taking advantage of?”
“What is a young lady doing in an electronics repair shop with 10 men?”
Our first words were exchanged. Pleasantries. I, skilled at being pleasant. He, an entrepreneur eager to get down to business.
“What can I do for you?”
I unearth my possessions, cherished though they are, broken at present. A laptop and a phone.
His pupils hover around the gadgets, taking in their tutor’s every move. A flicker of a wrist, the impatient winding of a screw driver, yelling out to the youngest of them to gather scraps.
There is hope indeed for my laptop.
Before I met Prince, there was the No-Name-Man who worked in an air-conditioned office.
I carefully choose my words as I describe how it broke.
The comfort of a place that claimed to repair electronics was indeed distracting. For one, I know my bill was going to pay homage to its luxuries- A well polished show-glass, cushions, and the well hammered cabinets.
Thus, I am pleasantly relieved when gives his verdict: It cannot be fixed.
I knew before I met the No-Name-Man that I needed someone like Prince.
Dismantled electronics litter his shop. The only fan positioned above like a hovering aircraft is switched off almost immediately after a belligerent pupil flouts Prince’s command to conserve electricity. Bare muscles and hands that bear the 6am to 8pm shift on each crease of their palms are busy. That was the ruggedness I was looking for. And Prince is their leader.
One has to be wary of handymen in this part of the world.
They may steal your electronic parts.
Your job would be postponed indefinitely.
Your original parts may be substituted with counterfeit parts.
Worse still, they may disappear altogether- the handyman and your device.
Inasmuch as I hate to unload stereotypes on people, they do influence the way we relate with the people we meet. Thus, I was the hawk over the busy bees as they dismantled my devices. I thought about the lives they led outside the shop and struck a conversation with the youngest. I figured his work input would not be missed after all.
“How old are you?” I ask
He didn’t know. Someone guesses for him, proposing the figure 14, I think more like 12.
“Why isn’t he in school?”
I know this isn’t a question about his parents not being able to afford his school fees. Despite the fact that this is a developing country, basic education is free.
“He didn’t like school, so his father was fatigued of pleading with him to learn and pulled him out.” The same person answers.
“How about your mother?” Women rarely give up on improving their children’s lives.
“She is dead”. These are the boy’s first words to me, spoken quickly and with certainty.
My face breaks into a look of concern and his loss instantly tugs at my heart. I feel guilty about my reaction. Sometimes, it seems that we stretch the concept of empathy and grieve more than the grieved.
Prince is having none of my mini-interview and sent the boy on another errand.
Still, I chat with the men. Different countries, languages, upbringings, and family situations. Work. As clients drop off more broken appliances in the course of the day, it is clear that they have more work than talking to do. There is something about hearing people’s stories and picturing for the briefest moments, the lives they lead and the hopes they breed.
One of my favorite Instagram accounts is Humans of New York and I have often thought about doing something similar. A striking image with a jagged puzzle piece. A life.Allowing the reader to conjure up the rest of the individual’s story in his or her imagination.
There are just too many people I have met. I rarely forget a face when combined with even the smallest of small talks. The truth is I am unsure of uncovering the intimate details we’ve shared. Still, their stories, summed up, cast a shadow. I recall the people, their stories at the most random moments. Cooking. Doing Laundry. Cooing over a baby. A song. A movie. Dreaming.
Prince’s daughter jolts me back to reality. She is on the mandatory 2-hour siesta break from school and seems to have a list of monetary demands that he clearly doesn’t approve of. Yet another excursion. Yet another expense. Pride. He tries to conceal it, but you can see it clearly. He has succeeded where many of his age mates failed. A business of over 2 decades still going strong. A following of pupils eager to pay for his tutelage. A daughter receiving an education. He basks in all of these, but still scolds her.
I am an observer that has become family.
Prince beckons at the woman selling fresh coconuts to break one for me. I drink the refreshing juice, a sip at a time. There is a lot in one shell.
I pause to observe the men at work and drink it all in.
P.S. This month has shown me that one needs an unworried and unhurried mind to write. Also,a tablet doesn’t cut it when it comes to writing a blog post as nothing beats the flow of words from the fingers to the keyboards. I am sure my predecessors felt the same way about the sound of a typewriter. Thank you Prince for fixing my laptop, repairing my heart, and opening up this new-found flow of words from a mind free to think and type with real keys!