Celebrating East African Writing!
If Olweny had not stayed up to watch a late night Nigerian movie on the Afro-cinema series, he would not have woken up late and missed his usual transport.
Had he made the 7.00am company bus he would not have been anywhere near cooperative house; within the proximity of the American Embassy that morning?
He had dashed out of his house in Impala court, only to realize he had forgotten his wallet. Rushing back to collect it from the bedside cabinet, had cost him precious time. Fumbling in his pocket for his house keys, he inserted it into the lock on the sturdy mahogany front door, and twisted. Struggling to shut his metal gate , Olweny suddenly stopped, pushed the squeaky gate open and went back in to confirm if he had properly secured his front door. He could not remember hearing the metallic click that would have evidenced its locking. Twisting the door handle twice, just to be certain, he then hastened out of his compound, and on to the graveled road between the tile roofed masionettes that snuggled close to each other. Glancing at his watch he broke into a run. He knew he could not make it, but ran all the same.
Reaching the main road, he saw the blue company bus drive away. Sprinting with the deceitful determination of one who knows that his effort must come to naught, Olweny’s feet pounded the tarmac bellow. Even as the bus sped away, he imagined seeing the driver’s smug smile on the bus’s rearview mirror as it turned the corner into the highway.
Olweny was still catching his breath, when a matatu screeched to a halt, loud reggae music blaring. It was packed with passengers too scared to voice their discomfort. Squeezing in he sat in between a woman who kept sneezing and a skinny teenager, with headphones plugged into his ears. Hooting incessantly, the driver aggressively propelled the gold sprinkled black Nissan-matatu, shooting into one lane after another, unperturbed by the many near- misses and the loud curses from other drivers. Miraculously they made it to town in a record twenty minutes, without mishap.
Certain he could not make it to the company offices in Westlands on time, unless he used a cab, Olweny hastened to the ATM at the Co-operative House to withdraw some money. He had just gripped the cold steel handle of the tinted glass door leading into the dimly lit enclosure that housed the ATM machines when the handle was roughly snatched away from his grip, and his body slammed against the glass door, smashing it into tiny pieces.
He would later recall hearing a loud reverberating sound that seemed to encapsulate him; suspend him , and then effortlessly fling him against the glass door. Other times he would describe what he had heard as: A deep throaty rumble that – like thunder – seemed to roll on, accompanied by a swooshing gust that swept his body, leaving him with a strange prickly pain all over his body. Of one thing he was certain though: the ground shook.
Opening his mouth to scream he heard nothing, save for an intense ringing sound in his ears, which ached terribly. An acrid burning smell assaulted his nostrils, and seared down his throat causing him to cough violently; sending a sharp wave of pain through his chest.
Using his hands he tried to get up, but was discouraged by the pain from the broken glass that pricked his palms. He felt a warm trickle between his legs and realized he had emptied his bladder. His last thoughts before blacking out were: ‘Why me?’
Olweny will later learn that he was not alone. He will hear of the well timed terrorist attacks directed at the American Embassies in the three East African capital cities and the hundreds that have lost their lives. He will be told of the building next to where he had stood that was razed to the ground, and the multi-storey cooperative house that had been gutted. From his hospital bed he will hear the hushed voices of nurses talking of survivors, still trapped in the rubble, despite the best efforts of disaster rescue personnel from Israel .He will hear of: how lucky he is to be alive.
He had come to, on a cold metal stretcher at the casualty section of the Kenyatta National Hospital. His entire body ached. Each time he opened his eyes the pain was unbearable. When he shut them he felt like hot coals were searing down on his eyeballs.
Feeling an urgent need to rub his eyes, he reaches out with his left hand, only for it to be grabbed and pulled away from his face. ‘The last thing you want to do is rub those eyes!’ A voice warned.
Olweny did not attempt to open his eyes anymore. Not even the curiosity to see the source of the warning was enough. His eyes were on fire. The ringing sound in his right ear had also refused to go away.
Later he will learn that he has permanently lost the use of both his eyes. He will also be told that his eardrums have been damaged and use of his right ear impaired. He will never be able to go back to his bank job.
‘Water! I need some water…’ He shouted to no one in particular. His throat was perched, his head throbbed and his own voice sounded strange and distant.
‘Be patient, you are one of the lucky ones.’ Someone shouted back.
Olweny would be in hospital for a full month. He would learn to use the walls to guide himself to the washrooms at the extreme end of the ward. Cocking his head sideways he would try to listen to any conversation around him, realizing that his left ear was not completely useless.
His elderly mother had visited him from upcountry, pitching tent each day at the hospital, and only leaving reluctantly in the evening. She constantly heaped blame on her neighbor- Nyaralego. Why did that witch-of-a-woman not leave her alone?
‘Why does she not direct her evil spells at me, instead of taking away your eyes my son?’ she would shout. ‘I am told she has a black serpent in her house and feeds it on eggs.’ She would continue loudly, so that the whole ward could hear. ‘Did I not tell you that while I was clearing our piece of land at the bottom of the valley close to the river, the witch passed by, and greeted me? It did not last a minute before I cut my big toe with a hoe.’
Olweny would not respond. That was his mother as he knew her, and had she reacted in any other manner he would have been surprised. Her every waking day was dictated by talk of charms and fetishes. For her misfortune did not just befall one, it was directed by forces that if not countered, then culminated in evil such as that which had befallen her only son. How could she have been caught napping she had asked? Olweny stoically listened, his good ear propped up from the green lumpy hospital pillow with the initials-KNH, printed in black.
At the end of his first week in hospital his aunt Helen visited. A tall dark woman with angular features, she never left her leather cased bible behind .Where Helen went the black shiny bible went with her. She had barely reached his bed when she broke into prayer that was to last for a good ten minutes. Asking the Lord to save this young boy who had fallen short of His Glory. She hissed out one amen after another. She prayed for Olweny, his mother and all the others. She prayed for the doctors, nurses and even the terrorists who had caused untold suffering. Lifting her bible up she made as if to smack the evil Satan with it; condemning his evil ways. She thanked the Lord for manifesting his ways in what had befallen her nephew. After all it was all God’s will, and there was a greater design in the tragic incident. After an eternity of unrelenting prayer, she finally took Olweny’s hand in her firm grip and enquired about his recuperation.
Listening to all this Olweny thought of his secondary school teacher Mrs. Chaudrey. For her it all boiled down to chance. He remembered her illustration with the colored balls. If red were more in number, then the probability of your picking up a red ball were higher. But this was not about balls this was about him and his future. Who, had decided that he was to be at that location when the bomb went off? What if he had not watched the Nigerian movie, and woke up early that fateful day? Was it fated that- of all the days when a bunch of Arab terrorists had decided to blow up the American Embassy-he would miss the company bus and find himself in the vicinity of a terrorist attack? And what if he had not forgotten his wallet by the dresser, or gone back to confirm that his front door was locked, might he not have made the bus? Would he not have been far away, in his cozy office cubicle in westlands, waiting for the tea girl to to serve him a welcome cup of Ketepa tea?
As all these thoughts swirled through his mind Olweny realized he did not even know the tea girl’s name.
©P. Ochieng Ochieng 2010
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