Kunga sits on an old, red plastic chair. It’s a chair that you would expect to find deserted after too many injuries from the broken armrest. The dust and dirt its collected over time make it look like it’s outlined by an artist’s hand in black charcoal.
Kunga sits perched on a small, triangular piece of grassy land surrounded by a sewer and the front wall of my neighbor’s house. If he’s alone, it’s rare. He’s usually surrounded by a few men talking loudly, occasionally laughing, or in the middle of what seems to be a confrontation. I never know whether to say hello, wave, nod or ignore.
When I met him for the first time away from his red chair, he was taller than I had imagined, his shirt hung a little too short and his arms moved more than his legs when he crossed the street towards us. He looked at my son and said, “How’s my boy?”
His eyes narrowed with disappointed when there was no answer. My son peeked from behind me intimidated by his presence. “We are well,” I answered, “and you?”
“I am the grounds keeper here. Everybody knows me. They call me Kunga.”
“Hello, Kunga.” Pointing to my son, I said, “They call him Kojo.”
Kunga didn’t respond after that. He kept looking at the little boy too new to this world to understand the complexity of conversation. The grip on my leg grew tighter. I realized that I was also too new to this world. We all stood there looking at each other in the middle of the road. A taxi drove by and beeped its horn.
“Nice to meet you.” I said as we started to walk away.
After that day, whenever we pass by on our walks and he is sitting on his bright, red throne holding court, we look and wave. “That’s Kunga,” I tell my son, “everyone knows him.”