At the Tea Vendor’s

Winner of the “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest

Khartoum, Sudan

I sighed with relief, having made certain that I had not mislaid any of my bags, and then sat down to enjoy a well-earned cup of tea. After all, I had been strolling up and down the vegetable market for hours. The place was swarming with tea vendors. The smell of mint and cloves hung in the air, tantalizing the passers-by. The clientele was rather scarce considering the crowds the place usually attracts. Other than that, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, nothing qualified as visually entertaining. The day had barely begun and I didn’t want to return home just yet, given that, as an unemployed man, the alternative was to twiddle my thumbs at home all day. Thus, I decided to kill time by trying to memorize the messages printed on billboards and other commercial signs. I let my eyes bounce from the ill-looking people who dragged their feet to the pharmacy to the tea vendors, who seemed to be involved in a lively discussion, on which I decided to barge in.

Suddenly, a bearded young man sat down next to me. The trousers he wore started way below his waistline and rope-like dreadlocks dangled from his head. He stuffed them into a tricolor cap and inserted a pair of earbuds firmly into his ears. Then, he started to sway to the beat only he could hear. I immediately felt intrigued by him, so I approached him with a smile, “May I listen through one of your earbuds?”

He answered with an even larger return smile, “It’s hip hop. Do you like listening to hip hop music?”

I said, “sometimes,” and he passed me an earbud.

I placed it into my left ear and started listening to the lyrics of the song. After a short while, I removed the earbud and asked the young man if he would play the last part of the song again.

My request was granted and, after hearing the same piece of the song for the second time, I returned the earbud to the young man and asked him, “Did you understand what the singer just stated?”

“I‘m not sure what you mean.”

“You don’t seem to have a very profound knowledge of the English language,” I blurted.

The young man looked a little embarrassed. He then justified himself by saying, “I understand some of the words, but not all of them.”

“So you have just chosen this music because of its rhythm,” I surmised.

“One could say so.”

“And do you want to know what the song says?”

“Please, I can’t wait.”

“It goes, You’re miserable, because you try to be a good God-fearing person. You would be better off as a motherfucker. As a result, you would live in the lap of luxury, women would throw themselves on you and pour delicious red wine directly down your throat. At least now you know what you have to do to prevent the mayor ending up in bed with your wife.

The young man became visibly uncomfortable, perhaps feeling that I was too much all up in his business. He asked, “Do you want to keep listening?”

I respectfully declined.

Then, the young man put his earbuds back in his ears and proceeded to meticulously untangle the wires, which had gotten caught on the tentacles that grew from his skull. He took his time, in silence, letting me know that he was not in the mood to resume our conversation. Afterwards, he stood up, paid the tea vendor for the tea he had drunk and left. My eyes followed him until he vanished from sight.

As I turned my gaze back to my surroundings, I saw that he had left his wallet behind, which must have slipped out of his trouser pocket and which was now resting on top of the chair where he had been sitting a moment ago. I opened it, hoping to find some sort of card with his address or his phone number written on it so that I could return it to him. I have to admit, though, that I was also dying to know what it contained. However, all I found inside was a condom and some uppers.

I folded the wallet and handed it over to the tea vendor, saying, “The guy sitting next to me dropped his wallet before leaving. Here, in case he returns.” She remarked, “I wouldn’t bet on it. By now, I should be opening a lost-and-found office considering all the stuff I’ve gotten to keep from what people have misplaced over the years.”

As I set out to return home, I inadvertently started humming the snippet of the song I had just listened to. It had stuck in my head! Suddenly, I stopped humming. I had come to a dawning realization. I had forgotten my bags with all the groceries I had bought that day at the tea vendor’s!


The author, Kamel Esawy:

Sudanese short-story writer and poet.