He called it a damper. I stared at him blindly. I had just purchased stamps and handed over my three envelopes, addressed and sealed. He gestured behind me and I looked over my left should in the direction he was pointing.
“There’s a damper”, he said.
His face and demeanor were all grey. Stony grey. No emotion, no smiles, no joy. He sat at his desk, the mPesa log book splayed out in front of him and a ragged blue Bic pen hugging itself to the book.
I had walked into the empty post office not knowing what to expect. I had not mailed a physical letter in a decade and this man did not seem to understand how this damper statement utterly confused me. When I looked over my left shoulder, there was an expanse of wooden counter topped by red formica that was threadbare in some places, some grey and black splotches showing through. I looked back at him and he held up my three envelopes on which he had placed a variety of stamps. Grabbing them through the awkwardly glassed opening, I turned and walked towards the counter, figuring the yellow pod thing on it was this damper of which he spoke.
You adhere the stamps yourself. The damper holds a dingy looking brown sponge with some questionable fluids within and around it. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and dipped my right index finger into the yellow plastic pod. It was wet and it felt very germ-y and it felt like it had had the index fingers of a million people feel it up since it was rolled off the assembly line. So this was my introduction to the damper. Used to dampen fingers so you don’t stretch out your tongue and lick the back of stamps or that sticky part of the envelope. Perhaps it is to fight against paper cuts in inappropriately painful places like your tongue. Perhaps.
It reminds me that I am back in a place that has fast moving cars, crazy traffic and swift politicians, billboards the size of giant pancakes overlapping their frying pans…but this place has some things stuck in the middle ages: dead chivalry, respect for personal space and the lack of understanding about why traffic lights exist and how one should abide by certain rules when driving (or parking).
I pull my finger out of the damper and paste that mystery liquid across the back of the stamp. Life.