Nassor paused, confronted by the multi-coloured throng of people that appeared to surge and ebb like the waves on the beach. The cacophony of movement and noise assaulted him; a hubbub of voices, greetings, vendors calling out, the splutter of motor bikes weaving past, the shout of a barrow boy intent on advancing with his load, and constant, in the background, the base rhythm of modern African music.
Someone nudged him from behind and he turned, startled. A couple of women in black buibui, heads averted from him so they appeared as swaying black forms of fabric, brushed past him before crisscrossing their way through the crowds. He fell in behind them, allowing himself to be carried along in the movement of people headed west. The sun was hot and blinding. Nassor squinted and pulled his nylon baseball cap down on his forehead.
Sweat was running into his eyes and he used the long sleeve of his t-shirt to wipe across his brow. In a few minutes he had reached the small shop house and pushed his way past a couple of women chatting in the doorway. He called out a cursory greeting. A young man dressed in an orange shirt and leaning against the glass counter called out, “karibu,” then continued playing with his mobile phone. His welcome was automatic not genuine. The inside of the shop was cool and air-conditioned. Nassor shivered.
The Indian owner of the shop, dressed in a white kanzu robe, was sitting behind the counter intent on reading the ‘Daily News’; his eyes squinting through his narrow glasses that sat halfway down his nose. Only when Nassor stood fidgeting in front of the counter did he look up.
Nassor fumbled in the back pocket of his jeans that hung fashionably low showing a strip of colourful underpants. In a moment, with a trembling hand, he’d placed the ring on the glass counter-top. The shopkeeper gave a knowing smile while the young man looked on with a bored expression then returned to playing with his phone.
“How much?” Nassor asked. He wasn’t able to keep the desperation from his voice.
The shopkeeper held the ring in his left hand and picked up a large ancient looking magnifying glass. He pushed his glasses onto the top of his head and squinted through the glass.
Nassor moved his weight from one foot to the other and thrust his hands deep into his pockets.
“A nice stone.” He paused and turned the ring around again. “18 carat gold. And it is engraved inside.”
Nassor had forgotten about the engraving. A wave of guilt washed over him and he was sure he was blushing; one of the disadvantages of his relatively pale skin and Arabic descent. He mumbled, “My mother asked me to sell it. You know how expensive everything is becoming in the shops these days.”
“Indeed.” The shopkeeper looked up, placed the ring down emphatically and said, “Thirty Thousand.”
“But …” Nassor hesitated. It was worth far more than that but he didn’t want to have to go elsewhere. He needed the sale to go through right now. “Surely it is worth forty.” It came out more like a question.
The shopkeeper held his gaze and raised an eyebrow.
Nassor wanted to bargain with him but the nausea had returned and his whole body was sweating profusely. “Okay.”
The shopkeeper, with the ring now secreted in a small box, disappeared through a door into the dark depths of the old building. Nassor bit his lip and told himself to breathe through the intense desire to vomit.