Celebrating East African Writing!
I woke up at 4.45 am, fifteen minutes before the alarm clock went off, the earliest I had woken up on a Monday since college days. I was excited, ecstatic even. After many months of job hunting, I had finally managed to secure an interview. I thought gloatingly and triumphantly that today the Pamoja Internet café would miss my thirty shillings.
I discovered Pamoja six months earlier when Prestige internet café at Adams shopping center became too expensive for my daily visits. Although it had only six computers which were slightly slower, at fifty cents per minute, Pamoja, was a third of the price I was paying earlier.
Pamoja is on the outskirts of Kibera slums, so I had to use my cheaper Nokia 1208 phone I had bought on offer for 1699/- and leave my Nokia 5300 given to me by my uncle safely at home.
I got up hours before my interview appointment, so that I could iron my outfit and take a warm shower, aware that at around 6.00am there would be no electricity with the ongoing power rationing. As I ironed, I turned up the radio and sang along cheerfully to Eric Clapton’s “If I could change the world”.
By seven, with three more hours to kill until I had to leave for my eleven o’clock appointment, I skimmed through my CV ensuring that I had memorized all the exaggerations I had added to it. I also went through my nursing notes trying to anticipate possible technical questions that I might be asked.
At exactly ten minutes to ten, I walked to the bus stop. I had decided it would be wiser to wait for the Citi Hoppa buses rather than the matatu minibuses as I was wearing my white pinstripe linen trousers, a beige camisole and a white three quarter sleeve linen jacket.
I had also bought a second hand pair of white baby doll flat shoes for two hundred shillings from Toi market that I had washed in bleach on Saturday. I had accessorized carefully with a pair of dangling Zebra print wooden earrings and necklace which I had bought as a set for one hundred shillings by the road side. The fifty bob translucent white nail polish worked wonders on my short nails to make them look neat and presentable.
Fifteen minutes passed and I thought I’d better brave the matatus otherwise risk being late. The next one to come was old and rusty and I regretted having let the new, grey one with loud music go earlier.
The only vacant seat was the one next to the makanga and I was peeved to find a wheel under my seat, I had to place one foot on top of it and the other just beside it trying to ensure the bottom of my trousers was not smeared by the dust and grease on it.
I tried to appeal to the tout to place it at the back when we next stopped but he merely shrugged his shoulders and loaded another passenger at the next bus stop, who sat halfway on my seat and his.
The passenger, a hefty woman with a leso around her waist indicated that she was only going to Dagoretti corner. I cringed as she sat down and the tout plonked a small sack on her lap releasing some dust into the stuffy air in the matatu.
I closed my eyes and decided that perhaps this was a lesson in patience and tolerance that I would need for the job I was going to be interviewed for.
After unsuccessfully applying for many vacancies in local hospitals, clinics and health facilities, I decided to try some private care work. I found two such vacancies. One was for a disabled Indian teenager living in Nakuru, and the other an elderly British Kenyan living in Karen. I applied for both but was pleased the Karen one is the one that came through.
The job advert stated that a couple was looking for a day nurse to care for their elderly mother who was suffering from dementia and arthritis. The candidate would be available on certain weekends and on some nights as requested. They would be a qualified nurse with at least three years experience in the nursing field, hardworking, and meticulous in appearance and in their work. The pay had been noted as ‘negotiable’.
After much thought I had decided that I would ask for fifty thousand shillings per month, affordable in my mind to anyone who lived in Karen, looking for private nursing.
I had doctored my CV to include four years of experience at an imaginary health center in Kibera. I had been the head nurse at the center which was set up by MSF – Medicines Sans Frontiers (Doctors without frontiers). If asked, I would say that the project had run its course and funding for the project ran out, so the center had to be closed. I figured these ‘Kenyan Cowboys’ would have no idea of the institutions in the slum.
As the matatu pulled into the Dagoretti bus stop, I sighed with relief that the potato sack woman would alight without having dirtied my outfit. But as she got up, a few moments before the matatu came to a complete standstill, we hit a pothole and she was jerked forward then backwards. Her wide buttocks landed painfully on my chest and her potatoes and onions rolled out of the sack and onto my lap.
“Uuuiii!” she exclaimed following each potato and onion with her eyes as it rolled onto the floor and into the spare wheel underneath my feet. Only then did she notice the damage done to my trousers. “Pore mandam” she said as she tried to dust off my pants with her equally dusty fingers.
I quickly pried her fingers off me and told her it was ok. I reached for the green toilet paper I had stuffed into the side pocket of my white pleather (fake leather) handbag and tried to dust off as much as I could while she collected her potatoes around and between my feet.
We set off shortly afterwards as I continued to dust off my pants. Just as I balled up the tissue satisfied that I had done the best I could, we pulled into the race course bus stop and one person alighted from the front seat while a group of four were fitted into the remaining space.
There were two young American girls, one of them sat at the front seat next to the driver. The conductor then instructed the three passengers seated behind the driver’s seat to move over for the second girl. They giggled as they glanced at each other obviously enjoying their matatu-adventure.
The tout stood next to the door, with his buttocks hanging out the window into the cold July air. The other two passengers, an old Maasai and a young drunk gentleman shared the tout’s seat. The seat next to mine.
The old man was sat closest to me, wrapped in his bright red blanket. He held a half meter rod with a leather extension hanging on one end that he probably used to whip his cows. His knees poked out through the fold of the blanket and refused to stay covered despite his repeated attempts. He seemed unable to keep his knees together or support them so that his left knee followed my right knee every time I tried to move away, until I was resting mine on the gentleman next to me.
Two bus stops down the road, we came across a herd of cows and he alighted. Not without first dragging his leather whip across my thigh leaving a black and brown line.
The drunk then shuffled closer to me and made space for the tout to sit next to him. I thought now for sure we were on the home stretch and had to persevere only a few more minutes. He nodded off to sleep instantly leaning his greasy, smelly and uncombed mane on my shoulder. I pushed him off but he did not wake up. His head just kept bobbing back, forth and sideways.
The tout tried to wake him up to pay his fare. After trying to do so by shaking him on the shoulder, he slapped him hard on the back and scared him awake. He jerked, eyes open, disoriented and unsure of where he was. The next moment he was spilling his guts out.
The tout was apologizing but it was no use. The pink liquid drenched the bottom of my left trouser. I used the balled up tissue in my hand to wipe off as much as could. I was alighting anyway and decided to enter the nearest pub to clean up.
It was 10.45am I hurried into the bar, ordered a double shot of vodka and went straight to the ladies. I mopped my trousers with wet tissue, grateful that theirs was white. I rushed back out, downed the drink in one gulp, paid, emptied an orbit packet into my mouth and made my way to Kamula lane to walk the two kilometers as directed.
When I got to the road, my heart almost dropped. It was a dusty road. I walked as fast but as gingerly as possible not to get any dust on my damp trousers.
After ten minutes of walking, I spotted the pink iron gate I was going to a few meters ahead on the opposite side of the road. It was now exactly 11.00am. At least I had made it on time I thought. Just as I started to cross the road, an old beat up land rover came speeding up the road behind me.
I inched away from the road as much as possible slowly at first. But as the car approached I panicked at the sight of the car swerving from one side to the other.
I let out a scream as I landed on a thorn bush, piercing the skin on my neck, back, buttocks and thighs.
I came to and found a pair of dusty, reddened young white faces looking at me with amusement. Then I noticed the smell of liquor. They were drunk but had also poured some whisky on my face to wake me up. As I lifted my head, I discovered I was now lying on the grass, inside the compound of the pink gate.
Out of the pink mansion emerged a woman wearing a white shirt, pink linen pants and pink and white sandals. In her hand she held a pink mug of hot peppermint tea and apologized for her sons’ behavior and hoped I was not injured.
She must have decided to give me the job as an apology. She merely skimmed through my CV, asked a few inconsequential questions and told me that I could have the job. I accepted the job for twenty thousand shillings a month.
© Jedida Oneko 2009
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