Ay dear Hiwot. Sometimes I think she is trying to make me lose my hiwot. How, I ask you, can one grown tall strong man of many responsibilities, like me, stay alive the whole night with just this one little sini that holds two mouthfuls of buna? And today, that woman, she tells me to take the sini with me. Do you think she knows? It is hard to say. But I wonder, you know, as I put this little sini on my dashboard. She must know that the first thing I do at start every shift, before even I put on my Bluetooth in my ear and put her voice or her breathing in my ear until she falls asleep, the first thing I do is make a stop to Starbucks.
Now with that Starbucks cup as long as half my arm full of their black benzene buna, now with that, a man can begin his work and not mind the disrespect so much. I tell you, only the old guys in my business, only the old guy drivers get the respect. Why? Because the customers, they see them old guys and think Oh this poor man, he must do this work because his English is terrible. And he must have mouths to feed. Mouths to feed in this country. Mouths to feed in that other country. Mouths mouths mouths. So of course he must do the only job that can be trusted to him. But they look at me, a strong young man still firm in body, driving this clown-color car, taking their “hard-earned” money, and think Lazy bastard, taking easy way out. He could so do much better. Then, I ask you, would I get tips? Please. My tips is their look that say Do something with yourself young man. I will not encourage this by tipping you.
Bastards. They do not know, my name, it is TARIKU. I will make tarik still. Just wait. I will make CAPITAL T tarik with this my life. Actually, they really don’t know it is Tariku, my name. Why complicate my nights explaining my honorable name fifteen thousand times to every customer? No, on shift I am James. JAMES. Are you the young James Earl Jones? they ask when they hear my voice. Who the shit that is, I don’t know. I know I have the voice of a king. My mother, she hear it before even I begin to speak. So that is why she named me Tariku. But I say, Yes yes, that James. Early James.
So this night, I drive to my Starbucks first like usual, the one by the Greyhound station, first and foremostest to get the gas for this my brain. But when into my clown-car I get back in, and I see that little sini that sharp-smart Hiwot told me to take with her, when I see it sitting like decoration on my dashboard I get an idea. Why, if I have this thing, why not use it for my real night’s coffee? Better to use it to pour out from my long Starbucks cup into this little one, enjoy small small amounts that don’t get weaker and weaker but stay strong strong in every cup. Like this, you see, the Starbucks cup become like my jebena. Not round in bottom and long and tall like my Hiwot. I mean, like my Hiwot’s jebena (she calls her jebena ‘Enat’ you know!) but just long and tall like a jebena would look if a man designed it.
Into one cup holder (the one near the passenger seat, which also is my library of wereketa wereket, at least until some drunk decides to be buddy-buddy and sit in the front seat, but that happens not earlier than 2am) I put the wend-jebena and into the cup holder beside me I put dear Hiwot’s sini (white white with the red lines down on the sides, red exactly the shade of Hiwot lipstick. Yes, Tariku notices these small details, even with my eyes so narrow like Tyrese), and for the first couple of hours of slow business, just driving driving, cursing this night that might bring no customers (freezing cursed winter, why these people every year they are surprised by it like it is something new, and they hide inside for all the months like woman who gave birth), as I drive I pour a little coffee from the Venti into my sini and enjoy my coffee like that.
Venti it is called, the long cup. And from one Venti you can get abol, tona, bereka and again abol, tona, bereka. Don’t believe? Your problem. Your responsibility to find this out on your own time and dime buddy.
Slowly slowly, the business picks up. Like werewolf with next day off, sometimes the customer they start coming out later in the night on weekdays. (Oh, today full moon, I forgot mention. But Tariku is not one to worry. I have my special necklace with the blue stone. Long story.)
I pick up one customer on the street of hospitals. First I make sure he’s not wearing paper dress with open back. You know, the ones the nurse send home with you like you are the ambulance. Not wanting responsibility for possible deadness, thank you. He has his paper cup coffee in his hand. He gets in. Always I try the customer to see if talking is required. I have instinct for understanding when only driving is desired. This one, he answers my standard test question: How’s it going tonight? And then he comes back with more topics. So like this we are shooting the shit, as they say. And then he says,
“Hey man what’s that you got there?”
“Where? This here? This is a coffee cup.”
“Get the fuck outta here. That’s a coffee cup like my mama is Marilyn Monroe.”
“Is that like a cultural thing with your ethnicity? For sure it’s no coffee cup.”
“I telling you the truth. With this we drink coffee in my culture.”
“Well I guess you folks aren’t that much into coffee then? Where you from?”
This is my standard answer. I am James. From East Africa. Because too many smartass when you say I am from E***. They have to show off and ask: are you from E*** or E***. Then I can’t say what the hell I just say, stupid ass? I stutter? You think I will mistake where I from? So again I have to say, only with small tension: I am from E*** like I said.
Since it happen like that too many times, my policy has become I just say East Africa and if that gives opening to guessing game, whatever they guess first I will say Yes, that country. I got name James from my American schoolteacher in village. He was Late James.
“Oh like Somalia and shit?”
“Figures why you all have such tiny cups. It’s hot as hell there. Probably don’t need more than that much hot drink for the day.”
This expert of course he doesn’t know about a country called Italy and a drink called ESPRESSO. But ok, I play ball with his small mind. “We drink four of these in one sitting. That like one Venti.”
“Then why don’t you just drink one big cup?”
What to say to this? That this is how we “shoot the shit”, by extending the buna session over millions of tiny little cups? I don’t feel to say this, so I say, “Because the pleasure it is in the pouring. The higher you can pour from and the thinner you can pour you are the most honored in your village.”
“Sounds cool. How high can you pour?”
“Oh very high.”
“And how thin.”
“Oh thin thin like thread.”
“But wouldn’t that make the coffee like cold.”
“Yes. But in Somalia it hot, we prefer the cold coffee.”
“Yah. Like iced. But no ice. Hard to make ice in Somalia.”
“Right about that. For sure. Makes total sense. Hey thanks man. Thanks for sharing that.”
At around this time we reach where he wants to go. I stop and he pays, makes joke that if I didn’t tell him what that cup is about he’d have thought it was tip jar. And to that I show all my Beni Amer teeth like smiling smiling but that is fake. Really I would like to scrape off the skin of his forehead with those teeth, but only problem it is Friday so it is tsom and my Hiwot’s kik wot has already filled my gut.
Before I drive again I take the sini out from cup holder, because all the Starbucks buna is finished anyway, and because all the remaining night I can’t go on explaining what it does and/or picking quarters and dimes out of it like street beggar. On the dashboard again I can’t put it because it will slide from one side to other side, falling almost breaking if I don’t catch it, all like some chick. So I do it another way and (also like chick heh) I put it mouth side down and bottom side up on the back dashboard (what’s it called? The flat part between rear window and rear seat). Like that when I put it, the sini stays in place, no sliding there and here. And I can see it back there just for my eyes, no customer to notice it.
The whole night I am driving, it is peeking at me in my rearview mirror. Like small little mountain. What you call that? Hill. Yes. Like small little white hill with long red lines down the sides, on flat green field of my back dashboard. Some people put stuffed toy animal, some people put umbrella, some people put Kleenex box. Tariku puts upside down sini. Each time I look into rearview I think I see like long rectangle postcard of open field in my country. Only this open field has street light for stars and is marked with just one small white hill, not long kingly and queenly mountains.
But still, it is enough to remind of the open field of the country. Minus the people or the cattle. Ok yes many things missing from this postcard but really who if only one person I could have back there would I want to have back there? In the field. Making jebena buna under the giant upside down sini mountain.
…Well, you know who this would be, like I know who this would be.
Oh Creator I have forgotten to call Hiwot this whole night. That is what I remember suddenly. So busy I was with my own taxi-buna I forgot my Bluetooth-buddy. Now I see the time. Fast asleep she will be. Asleep like something you unplug from the wall. Out cold, as they say. If I call now, only the ringing tone I will hear. Not her mhm and mhm? and mhmmm! like old woman with one vocabulary. To stay awake without my help, unless I have her humming humming sometimes talking, she cannot do. With the quiet, she goes out like light on ration night. Now if in that postcard in my rearview she was, all the night awake we could stay, making buna in the back. With this I make myself laugh, “buna in the back”. Like rap song it sounds.
I stop for customer. “Cute,” she says. Because to the sini she points, I understand she means the cup. She is first in the night to notice my little decoration in back.
“Yah. I have coffee going in the back sometimes.” Already in my head I hear the rap beat. What rhymes with ‘back’?
Like that, from nowhere is when the idea hits me. BAM! Customer call me for ride all the time. So why also for buna customer can’t call me? Straight to your door, or straight to wherever. Any time. Day or night.
I got buna in the back/das coffee for ya’ll my language don talk/yeah yeah uh uh…
This brilliantness immediately must be shared, I decide. So into my ear goes Bluetooth. Onto call button presses my finger. Wake up Hiwot, now.
Tariku just make tarik.