Shopping mall Cinderella

The black suede shoe perched on top of its red satin cloth was so lovely I couldn’t stop looking at it. I became aware that the shop assistant was hovering and tried to avoid catching her eye. I moved on to another aisle to admire other beautiful shoes and she tactfully followed.

Eventually I gave her a sheepish smile and told her, ‘I’m just looking.” She turned away, disappointed.
I didn’t have a coin to spare.

I had stopped at the Yaya Centre—a mega mall near my house—on my way home from work. I was in the matatu (Nairobi’s ubiquitous taxi van) when I remembered I’d run out of milk and I just can’t go to bed or get up in the morning without having a hot milky cup of tea: it seems to soothe or boost my energy depending on the time of day.

Having bought two packets of milk, I was heading to the exit of the mall when I saw the shoe out of the corner of my eye on a stall and stopped in my tracks.

The shoe was calling me to get a little bit closer. I ignored the price tag attached to its heel and let my eyes focus on its beauty. That shoe was like a magnet that drew me into the small shop. Only when I had touched it and spent some time looking at it did the price tag come into my vision and shock me back to reality. I had placed it back on its satin cloth when the shop assistant arrived —

It’s been six months since I bought a pair of shoes. Everything seems to have gone up, starting with the Kenyan inflation rate that shot up after the post-elections violence in December. Add to that the rising cost of petrol that increased public transport fares and the spiralling cost of basic household items and my shopping list has undergone drastic changes. I now include more vegetables such as sukuma wiki (kales) and terere (a traditional vegetable) in my basket—much cheaper than the meat I used to consume whenever I felt like it.

Despite just clinching a short-term job contract after a long period of in-between jobs, I have been struggling to clear my bills. A week after joining my new work, I decided to start taking my own sandwiches for lunch to save money as I had noticed a fridge in the office kitchen. When I opened it I was surprised to find that it was almost full with other people’s lunch boxes. My self-esteem went up a notch as I realised that I wasn’t alone.

Preparing a monthly budget is great when I write it on paper. But somehow it just seems to be a forgotten dream a few days after I have set my heart on following it.

‘Hey Mary, I am the chairperson of the church fundraising committee this month and I am counting on you to be one of my major contributors,” Mum says when she calls to find out how I am. Then there is the contribution to my friend’s ‘wedding committee” that I have to be part of because she has been my friend since we were in college. Before I know it, the pre-budget I had in place before I got my pay cheque seems to be a wish list rather than a practical plan.

Then there is me to deal with. As I pass by a pizza place, I naturally visualise myself biting into a Hawaiian. Or I might be with a friend who has been very helpful during my tough moments and I feel like I just want to spoil them—and myself—with a small, food-related treat.

Let’s not forget my enterprising neighbour upstairs who makes a conscious effort to sell me clothes that are just tailor-made for me. It’s like she can sniff when I have some extra coins on me and she always has a great bargain price. Unfortunately, she knows my style based on our many window-shopping escapades in my pre-job contract days and my loud proclamations of what I would like to wear if I had money.

It’s not that I have no self-control in the matter of money. The tough times I face in between contracts has taught me not to be afraid to tell my friends ‘No, I can’t make it,” when they are going to an expensive place for dinner or on holiday. It has also made me innovative in trying out new recipes and more welcoming about having people visit me at home. I have learnt that friends who don’t stand by me ­during my hard times are really not my friends.

Now every month I put away some money in my savings account. It doesn’t matter how small the amount may be. That’s because I’ve learnt that, despite the current economic situation in my country, I need to enjoy what life can offer once in a while without being too tough on myself. And I can only do that if there is a little extra cash that I don’t always have to account for.

I’m sticking to my savings plan and hope one day soon to march confidently back to the shoe stall at the Yaya Centre and buy that lovely suede shoe.

Mary Kiio is a freelance journalist and a media events organiser. She lives in Nairobi.

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