Celebrating East African Writing!
I spend so much time on the internet during work, telling myself I’m working or studying. I am doing my masters and have some classes online. Mostly though, I’m usually reading blogs, leaving comments on Facebook or chatting with someone. Work or study is the second last thing on my mind when I’m on the internet. I’m sure I could be the reason why they started blocking social sites at work.
Work, yes work. It’s a long process just getting to work in the morning. First is the struggle to get water. This morning, the tap ran dry as I rinsed myself in the shoilet. That is my term for the tiny cubicle that is the shower/toilet. Apartments have gotten smaller as days go by, and every tiny space is utilized. Which is why the wee compartment that is my shoilet (Okay, I confess the phrase is not original. I picked it from some sitcom on TV) rarely has running water. I live on the fourth floor and the pump does not have enough pressure to pump the water that high. That is what the landlord told me after I had moved in. When I was searching for a house, he told me it had running water. It’s not his fault the pump does not have enough force. It’s too much to expect the building to have an elevator so I have to climb four flights of stairs to get to my apartment.
And I am one of the lucky ones. Most families with three or more children live in houses my size. I am a single woman of twenty six and considered successful. I have a job, a car and I pay my own rent. I’m also taking any extra classes and attending conferences and seminars whenever I can. I can’t resist taking a break from work to represent my company in meetings where I get to eat sweets, drink water and doodle on the free stationery while pretending to listen to the speakers. I also take numerous tea breaks, I confess.
So as I was saying, this morning, the water stopped running as I was rinsing myself. Who was I kidding? I knew there is water rationing going on, but in my wisdom, I thought luck would hold out this time. Even when I know I am not a lucky person, I mean I am yet to win anything in any lottery. This is the capital city right? But water and electricity are actually more available in a smaller town. You would think the capital would get some priority after all? It seems there are more people than the city can handle. I know you are thinking, “She has got such a grasp of the obvious.”
Of course, in the tiny space outside my bathroom I have this plastic tank that I spent the weekend hauling water into from the tap four floors down. When I figured I had had enough exercise, I paid Johnny 5 bob per jerrican to haul it up. He does odd errands for anyone who needs his services in the compound of about 40 tenants. I suspect he more than services Miss Yellow’s car, but whom am I to judge? All this lifting of jerricans does something to the biceps.
I tune to my favourite station on the radio on the way to work. My Toyota Corolla is well maintained, which is what people say when they want to sound like they know about cars. I keep it clean and shiny, and call the mechanic when it breaks down, which it is fond of doing these days. I really have to get a new car. Perhaps I should just take that car that one James is offering. Except of course, it comes with such strings attached it could be a cobweb.
Soon after leaving the gate, I join the jam. I am used to spending thirty minutes each morning in traffic jams. I see the newspaper guy walking nonchalantly among the cars. He usually sells out at this section of the jam in the morning. I get my paper and glance at headlines, politics. Back page, sports. I take time to note who scored in what game. In this competitive world, I have to show I can talk football. Things like I think Arshavin is great for Arsenal, and34 declaring a stand against some football teams earns you some sort of respect.
Contrary to most women, I actually enjoy football. Both playing and watching. I could have played in the high school team but I was too busy reading novels and getting into mischief. In college, let’s just say there were other ways to spend my free time. So though I wish to be out there on the field, enjoying the fresh air and running around, I haven’t come round to it.
Crawling along in the jam, I notice one of those sales guys selling brightly colored thingies like USA flags, footballs, tennis balls, key-holders and such like stuff approaching. I quickly roll up my car window and pretend not to notice. The moment you give these guys an inch, they take a kilometer. I always end up with a load of stuff I don’t need. Already, my keys cannot get lost amidst a crowd of wedding or funeral guests.
I must admit though we have adopted many western ways, some things like wearing some theme color to a wedding or black to a funeral haven’t really caught on. This is the chance when people get to wear their Sunday best, and they will be damned if they will be restricted to some colors, or to no color. Of course, I always try to dress carefully but those fashion trends in magazines only exist in the magazines. I am yet to be congratulated on my choice of dress except when I wear a loud colored kitenge.
Where was I? Yes, still crawling along at snail’s pace. There is this dangerous section of the road where some guys pluck side mirrors to be sold as spare parts when you go to replace them. I have this fantasy, of taking a gun out of my glove compartment (assuming I can get a license and directions to a gun shop or some underground deal), waiting until the guy has his hands on the mirrors, then rolling down the window and pointing the gun at the guy, “take. Just take it.” You cannot understand the road rage some doctor had when he shot a matatu driver until you have driven on Nairobi roads. Or perhaps the doctor had an uncontrollable temper.
At work, I find a flier for Children of Africa left on my desk. I know who left it. It must be Steve, the new head of the department that has just been created. He is the head of Corporate Social Responsibility in the company and he lets everyone know it. He is very enthusiastic, much to the chagrin of most people at work. Every Friday afternoon he hands out fliers for social activities during the weekend. I have rarely attended any. Most of them involve visiting children’s homes and I am one of those young Kenyans who expressly state their dislike for children. It’s the cool thing for any upcoming professional. The ‘I don’t relate well with children’ part gets you out of this social responsibility Steve never tires of preaching. Of course, that does not stop him from dropping fliers on my desk every so often. Or everyone’s desk for that matter.
I don’t know how Steve convinces me to go with him this time. Could be because he said he was willing to do those tedious loan reconciliation details that were due a month ago. Could also be that sometimes I too, feel obligated to help the entire world. I do have my wishes, if I was to get a genie in a bottle, one of them would be to end world suffering. That is how Saturday found me in the green and yellow company t-shirt and a white tennis cap, crawling once again in traffic to the children’s home.
We are finally at the Children of Africa orphanage, for abandoned children. Here I am expecting toddlers, sad faced and yearning for love but what we find was confident kids happy to play with anyone. I find myself searching the sea of faces for anyone friendly enough to let me play with them. A young boy of about five catches my eye. There is just something about him, it could be his confidence or easy but naughty smile that reminds me of someone I know.
After the usual speeches about giving back to society, and a few pictures that may or may not make it to business pictorial (who reads that part of the newspaper anyway? But later I know I shall scan the business pictorial section, and if I happen to appear in any, I may just frame that picture. It’s not every day someone appears in the newspaper), I search for the child who captured my attention.
I hand him some sweets which he eagerly takes. I’m trying to find out why he attracted my attention in the first place. He strongly reminds me of…Jay. No, it can’t be, I tell myself.
I am now in a near panic. There is one way to find out. I stand up, having been crouching to talk to him for so long, I can hear my knee joints pop and he laughs at me. I laugh back uneasily. I walk to the offices nearby. The Sister in charge of the place looks up and asks if she can help me. I reply and tell her I want to find out more about their organization and that I have a donor in mind. I need to use her computer for a short while. She trustingly leaves her desk and well, here I am now at her computer.
In the short time it takes her to exit the room, it all comes rushing back.
* * *
College, the good old days, most people say. Actually, most people reflect back on their lives to see the good and not the bad. So of course, if you had bad days you skip over them. One such day is 12th December, 2004. I do not want to think about it, I don’t want to remember it. But how can I forget?
It’s not easy being pregnant in college. It’s not the fact that you are always broke, unless of course you are a girl who does not mind having a boyfriend older than Adam with lots of dough. I remember Miss Weaves once asked me if I wanted hookups. I asked her if she didn’t think he was a bit too old for her. She scratched my face, literally. That in itself is a story altogether.
As I was saying, pregnancy in college is not a nightmare because I was always broke. Or because people gossiped and stared when my stomach started to bulge. Or the fact that I had to sit sideways to fit at a desk in class. I did not get to do exams that semester, and the reason I gave is financial difficulty. The dean stamped my request even when he could see I couldn’t bend or see my toes. He was friendly like that. Pregnancy reasons tend to bring lots of questions.
It was a nightmare to be pregnant because nobody wanted me to get a child at that time, least of all me. I do not want to go into details of how it happened. It’s rather obvious. Of course, the father of the child was kind enough to give me some 7K in cash and the number of a certain doctor in town. After which he absolved himself of responsibility. Shouldn’t I have known better, he wondered? After all, I’m the one who gets pregnant so I should take the appropriate measures. Well, look where my appropriate measures got me.
Giving birth is the only thing in life which has no shame. There you are, lying on your back with not even the decency of a thin scrap of hospital gown. Your legs are at the widest they can get and about five people are peering down there wondering if the baby is ready to pop. One of them is in fact poking their hands in and out to determine the position of the baby. The pain is killing you and your screams of profanity are hitting deaf ears. There is no loving husband to hold your hand, or at least pace outside the room sympathizing with your pain and eagerly awaiting for his child.
There are no friends who will come to visit me when the child is born. And most certainly, there are no proud grandparents bearing gifts for the child to be named after them. I gave birth in shame. I covered the child as best as I could and left him on the Nuru junction. That was on the 12th.
I did toy with the idea of abortion. If you have ever watched those films that go round being shown to high school girls, then you can imagine how the abortion thought brought shudders. The film can actually be xxx-rated for all the blood and gore, except those images are not manufactured with tomato sauce and special effects, they are real. (Still on the subject of educational high school films, anyone remember watching the venereal disease one? I almost didn’t eat for a week. Note, I said almost.) That was when I decided I would give birth, which was fine, but bringing up the child?
* * *
Palms sweaty, I try logging in to their system. It asks me for my password. I pull out the top drawer and sure as I thought, she has the password taped to the top of the drawer. I key in “marymotherofjesus”, such a long password. I enter the name of the boy, David. Under circumstances that brought him into the home, I find there that he was brought into the home by a good Samaritan who picked him up from Thika Road, at the Nuru junction. The date was 12th December, 2004.
I am in shock. I don’t believe in karma and all that mumbo-jumbo in some inspiration books, positive energy coming back to you and such like language. But this can’t be a coincidence. The life I have so carefully built for myself is crumbling down. I know of course, that I can walk away from all this, go back to my Facebook life pretending all is fine. I also know that not an hour will pass by without me remembering David’s face, and wondering if Jay will eventually come back to ask what happened to his son.
I walk out of the room in a daze. The kids are making a racket, Steve is signaling me over for a soda. (Does he have any idea how many calories that soda has? And why are mundane thoughts running through my head? Like that time back in college when Dan texted a roommate asking her if she was not tired from running around his head the whole night. I’m sure you’ve heard of that pick-up line before.)
I find a cool spot under a tree, away from all the noise and activity. It is time to weigh my options. Leave and never look back. Or adopt my son and start life with him. The right thing to do, is of course the hard thing. I look at the people I work with playing with the kids and wonder what kind of secrets they are also keeping, and if they will ever come to light. I remember the words my aunt told me when I was reporting to campus, “Everything you do in the dark will eventually come to light.” At that time, anyone who knew I was going to college was giving me what they thought were wise words of wisdom. I pretended they were going in one ear and out through the other, but I was really listening and took it in. You don’t want to lose the teenage cool.
The decision is not really that difficult. I simply ignore nothing has happened. Or maybe I open the can of worms, and who knows, the fabled happily ever after could be waiting for me.
I stand up and walk towards my son. My mind is already made up.
* * *
Suddenly, I feel someone shaking me…and I look up. I am not seated under a tree at some children’s home but rather in the Lover’s Park in campus. So called Lover’s Park not because couples come to hang out here (which they do), but because of the benches that someone thought to have a love heart-shaped design. I look beside me, Jay (let’s just say we are going out) is giving me his concerned smile asking if I’m fine. I tell him I have just had a strange reverie. He knows I am a day dreamer, and sometimes I drift so far away into my thoughts. I ask him just what day it is, to make sure. It’s April the 10th, 2004. And I’m not twenty six, but twenty one and in college. I pat my stomach just to make sure I’m not pregnant, or am I? Later, after leaving the park as dusk approached, I went to my room to confirm my suspicions.
I just have a premonition about this daydream. It was so real. I know a roommate who keeps a stash of “appropriate measures and assorted paraphernalia”. I help myself to a pregnancy kit. Funny enough, I am not surprised when it turns out positive. I do some quick calculations. I am sure you’ve guessed the due date, December 12th.
Just then, Jay calls. He wants me to tell him my thoughts. I tell him it’s a long story. That’s the polite way of saying, “leave me alone, I don’t want to tell you my story.” But actually, this time I literally mean it’s a long story. Lucky he loves to read, and I love to write. I tell him I’ll write down my thoughts instead. That is why I am sitting down typing this.
© Savvy Kenya http://savvy.blog.butterfly.co.ke/blog
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