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Mannequeen by Simon Mukali
The poster, stuck with recycled cello tape onto the glass window of the clothing store, read:
HELP WANTED. INQWIRE INSIDE
I was fresh from a campus at the lakeside, majoring in Art and with a minor in Literature, so the spelling error on the poster did not pass me by. One wonders why an uptown store in the heart of the CBD had members of staff with suspect writing ability. But I was not going to end this spate of fruitless job interviews if I was going to pick on the poster’s drafter. Instead, I straightened my shirt and walked in.
I had no clue what kind of help was needed here. At this point, it did not matter. I had over the months of tarmacking acquired a multi-skill set that meant I was ready to do anything you threw at me. Except stripping.
“You! Young man, what do you want here?” A bespectacled middle-aged man was staring at me with scrawny eyes. From his question it was clear he did not think I smelt like money.
“I saw your poster.” I said, hardly stirred.
“You will have to work for 9 hour days; 6 days a week and I will pay you 2,500 shillings a month. Sawa?”
It was nearing midday and I was not unfamiliar with the notion of non-violent daylight robbery, such as this was turning out to be. I swallowed a chunk of air as my Literature mind did some mathematical calculations, and as irrational as the deduction of this process was, I said yes.
Just like that, with barely a glance at my CV, I began my career as a store attendant, earning 2,500 KENYA SHILLINGS a month. Smack in the middle of a global downturn and never-ending inflation. I was blessed.
What the job at the store could not give me in terms of financial compensation, it returned in the form of people. The staff at the store was just four-man strong (two attendants, a pencil thin ‘guard’ and boss himself) and Scrawny Eyes liked it lean that way. The store stocked top-of-the-range men and women’s wear, and was popular with high-end clients. I put my Queen’s English eloquence on display. Rubbing shoulders with them was other-worldly.
Then I got a LIFE LINE.
“Can you hold this for me as I try out this outfit?”
I was drowsy when the huge handbag was shoved in my face. An appealing face was standing in front of me, and just to be sure of what I was seeing, I rubbed my eyes. It was 9/10 appealing.
Twenty minutes later the Appealing One walked back to me and she had transformed to the Stunning One. Nyako….
“Thank you for holding my bag.” she said, smiling so flawlessly I responded with fluttering eyelids, totally unnatural. I did not say a word.
Actually, I never once spoke to her, even as she came to the store every other week. Yes, my eloquence became redundant. She would always give me something to hold for her while she changed. A bag, sunglasses, a scarf, even when she came in with her twenty-something year old age-mates. I only noted the effect this was having on my youthful self when she did not appear for a whole month and I actually MISSED HER.
The next time she reappeared I had a pencil and sketch pad, and for every other visit, I sketched her. I drew her in almost every possible pose, always decently despite my wandering imagination. The changing room being in close proximity I never took a peek.
Scrawny Eyes kept his store in tip-top condition, and did welcome new ideas for sprucing up things, so long as it was not the figures on your pay slip. With that in mind, I convinced him to let me touch up some of the mannequins, those which needed a facelift. It was the closest I could come to applying what I had graduated for, and of course my own twisted version of plastic surgery.
Later, clients noted the store mannequins looked more colourful, and life-like. Stunning One came in around that time. She was in unusual company today, because for the first time in six months, she walked into the store with a MAN. A man. Unbelievable. A tall, bald headed male in his early thirties. From the moment I saw them, I also got into unusual company; my iris was clouded by some green matter that made my vision foggy. Still, I watched them from my perch as they moved around, my gaze consistently trailing to her smile, her long black hair, her well formed, curvy figure and simple yet stylish outfit, her this…her that…
It was as I was transfixed on them that she stopped so suddenly that Baldhead nearly tripped and crashed to the floor. I did wish it happened that way-but he had stable feet. They must be size 11. Even a camel would look at those feet with envy.
She slowly walked towards one of the re-done mannequins. STUNNED she was…and so was Baldhead. She looked this way and that, called the other attendant and asked him something. He shook his head. Her right palm was on her cheek in amazement.
Then she laughed out loud, a strange sounding laugh, and looked towards me. I smiled back, somewhat. She quickly approached me, Baldhead trying to keep up.
“YOU did it, didn’t you?” Her voice was choked with excitement.
I didn’t speak.
“Its…it’s a beautiful piece of work. I…I don’t believe it. It was like looking at myself in the mirror.” she added, her eyes misty. As I was still digesting her compliment, she landed a peck on my cheek and ripples assailed me.
Inspired, I had dedicated one of the mannequins to Stunning One’s likeness. In fits of artistic passion, I went about capturing her image, with hundreds of her sketches around me to keep me on track….And it had worked.
“Thank you for making my day.” she said, and walked back to the mannequin. Ignoring Baldhead’s queries, she took a photograph of it with her camera phone. She bought nothing but left the store with the happiest aura I had ever seen engulfing her. I felt COMPLETE.
Scrawny Eyes had seen it all, and had put two and two together. I was declared an asset to the store, as I apparently made regular clients kiss me. I got an instant PAY RISE, which was jaw-dropping historic.
I had the Stunning One right in our store, my mannequeen, and I could see her EVERYDAY.
Problem is, mannequins can’t kiss….
© SIMON MUKALI 2009