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Sirens

During the weeklong first-year orientation activities at the University of Nairobi, freshers are constantly reminded that this university is the best university in Africa, south of the Sahara and north of the Limpopo. This phrase is used to confirm the importance of every physical structure and everything else that represents the best of the university. It is uttered so often that it becomes the running joke among his new comrades. During these first weeks, whether he’s at the CCU Cafeteria or at Kitchen One getting lunch or supper he hears the phrase.

“This is the best veg curry, south of the Sahara and North of the Limpopo!”

“But Comrade, have you tried the ugali and sukuma wiki?”

“Yes Comrade, the best ugali and sukuma, south of the Sahara and north of the Limpopo. Only ten shillings!”

It is the best conversation starter among strangers. There are just a few familiar faces from his high school years.

The word comrade makes him uneasy but also gives him the sense that he is finally an insider. His new roommate Mato sometimes calls him Comrade Moses. Mato treats the term comrade with a strange seriousness, as if he would be offended if a non-campuserian, as they refer to outsiders, was also called a comrade. When Mato says comrade, Moses feels like he should stand at attention or start jogging on the spot or say something like “Revolution!” to match his tone.

After receiving his acceptance letter months earlier, Moses has endured dead B.A jokes like, “You mean Being Around?” and “So you are going to get your degree in Being Available?” He laughs very hard having discovered that defending himself only makes things more uncomfortable. When he skips the details and says that he is an economics student, heads nod and then blurt out generic statements like, “Oh you are so clever. Now you just need to do a marketable course like CPA or IMIS to strengthen your degree.” This advice had him registering for accounting classes before joining the university, and now he is scheduled to repeat the two units that he failed a month ago.

In Hall Four, where he will live this first semester, there are always clothes hanging out of every window. Four floors of dripping wet or dry clothes suspended on makeshift clotheslines that are fastened between two open windows. Even when there is no water, there is always someone bent over a bucket outside washing clothes. It is a men’s hostel but there are very many women here—in the bathrooms, in the kitchenettes along the corridors, fetching water and hanging laundry outside on the designated laundry lines. That big “Say No to Cohabiting” poster at the hostel entrance has had the opposite effect. He has spotted somebody dressed in the green cleaner’s uniform who occasionally walks along his corridor with cleaning equipment but there isn’t any evidence that the hostel is ever cleaned. Hall Four may be crowded and dirty but Moses does not mind the being away from home. It’s been one year of waiting to be here. The fact that he can walk into town at anytime without the bus fare constraint is enough incentive to stay here even on weekends when he could easily go home.

His square room is on the second floor. The grey door has a handle that bears knocks and bruises of too frequent lock replacements. He is always careful not to pull the handle too hard because it looks like it is about to fall off. Inside the room there are two narrow beds and not enough space between the beds for a person to get out of bed, yawn and stretch properly. The cockroaches roam freely in and out from underneath two layers of cheap tearing-apart wallpaper that is actually gift-wrap paper. Having only Mato as roommate is a definite upgrade from his high school dormitory with sixteen double-decker beds. The square marks on the floor indicate that the room used to have standard square PVC floor tiles. Now it’s just bare concrete that Mato litters with his sports shoes and socks and sweaty sports gear.

Mato is tall, and he keeps his head bald which has a funny contrast with his bushy eyebrows. They are hard to ignore when he talks. Loose fitting tracksuits are his daily campus wear. Mato has a way of making everything seem bigger than it really is.

“I play handball?” He tells him soon during their first encounter.

“What’s that?”

“You’ve never heard of handball?”

“No, I know what handball is, but I thought it was only for P.E.”

“You should be very proud Comrade Moses. Do you know you are sharing a room with a member of the Kenya National team?”

Kuwa serious! Will you give me an autograph?” Moses jokes.

“You can talk matope now….”

“Do you get your updates on shortwave radio?” Moses cuts in.

Mato ignores his comment and goes on talking about travelling for international tournaments that get hosted in places that do not sound international enough for Moses. He boasts about long bus rides to Mwanza, Kigali, and Soroti. For Moses, when he thinks about going abroad, it’s places in other continents or at least as far away as Egypt and South Africa. All these places that Mato boasts about are in the same timezone as Nairobi.

“It’s not really abroad if you can go without a passport,” Moses says.

“Which countries have you been to?” Mato asks.

Moses falls silent, ashamed to admit that he’s only ever been to Namanga, the Kenya-Tanzania border, so close to Nairobi.

 

Thursday morning, two weeks after orientation Moses walks out of class. The lecturer has just walked in. Moses can’t find a seat in the large lecture hall and is unwilling to sit on the stairs again. He stuffs his books back into his backpack and then rolls up his shirt sleeves as he walks to the library with Mato, just to pass time and shelter from the sun outside instead of making the long trek uphill to their shared room and then having to make the return trip for the next class in just two hours.

Outside the library there are students chanting, “Comrade power! Comrade power!” This is the student organization SONU’s way of calling student for a meeting. On previous days the gathering has been subdued, but this time the gathering is more organized and is drawing a larger audience. Moses wants to ignore them, but Mato having heard the word comrade is already walking to join the crowd so Moses just follows. The leader Dagi shouts, “Comrade Power!”

“Power!” The growing crowd echoes. Moses sees familiar faces from Hall Four and the CCU Cafeteria and the orientation week. The SONU leaders step up onto the stone benches outside the library so that more people can see them. Dagi, the SONU chairman, and six other leaders stand out in their very formal office attire surrounded by students in casual attire. They distribute printed and handwritten posters while Dagi speaks to the crowd: “We are going to show them that we are not hooligans. We are just asking them to be fair. Comrade Power!”

“Power!” Everybody including Moses shouts back.

For this week, everything that is wrong with the university is being blamed on the new Parallel Degree Program. Moses and Mato are regular students admitted into university through the Joint Admission Board and paying subsidized fees and going to class in overcrowded lecture halls. Parallel students are the privately sponsored students who get admitted directly into the university and pay higher fees to attend smaller evening or part-time classes. Dagi does not need to say much to draw the collective rage of the regular students in his audience.

Dagi emphasizes that he wants students to march peacefully to the Ministry of Education to deliver a formal complaint to the Minister of Education. This is the plan. The crowd grows to the point where there could be five hundred or more students. A call-out reveals that other campuses of the university are present but, as expected, the majority is the B.A crowd from Main Campus.

Mato and Moses are part of this crowd that walks to the closest gate out of the campus and spreads out on the wide road with placards on which are written PARALLELS NOT AT PAR and DILUTE DEGREES. They shout “Comrade power!” Moses moves to the front of the crowd where he can see Dagi turn to conduct this group as it turns and makes the ten-minute walk along the main road pausing briefly at the roundabout. Now they shout repeatedly. “Hatuta piga kelele—We won’t make noise!”

Pedestrians hurry away, adjusting their walking routes as they decide which roads to avoid and which meetings to skip. Women clutch their handbags tighter. Vendors, shopkeepers, and restaurant managers within hearing distance of University Way and Uhuru Highway are rushing customers out and locking others in. Security guards are jumping into action pretending that their helmets, batons, hardcover registration books, and visitor tags will protect the buildings from rioting students. Shop front security shutters close as the students’ voices rise above the sound of hooting cars. The traffic lights closest to campus do not need to be secured; they are still guarded by metallic shields that were welded onto them to protect them from flying objects after the last riot.

Moses sees students he has seen around campus and takes this opportunity—student solidarity and all—to talk to them.

“Is this your first time on the streets?”

“No, but the last time I was in a riot, I was one of those people running away.” She points at the pedestrians and then continues, “This time I am one of the comrades.” She says it with pride.

“But I don’t think this one will be bad,” Moses says.

“We’ll see,” she says. She takes off her sweater and ties it around her waist. Then she adjusts the black and white bandana that covers her hair.

“It will be the most peaceful demonstration, south of the Sahara, north of the Limpopo!” They both shake their heads and laugh.

“It’s like Safaricom, the better option.” He makes a lame reference to a cell phone advert.

“The answer is yes!” She replies with a tag from the rival company.

“You chose the wrong day to wear those shoes?” She points at his shoes.

“By the way, what’s your name?”

“Pam, and yours?

“Moses. Are we in the same econ class?”

“No, socio. I didn’t take econ.”

“This is Mato, my roommate. He plays handball.” He taps Mato who is talking to another student. Mato smiles at Pam and reaches to greet her. She waves her “Hi!” instead of shaking his outstretched hand. There will be running, Moses is sure of that, even though Dagi has said that this is going to be a non-violent protest. The students fill Uhuru Highway with their laughter and cheering as radios everywhere alert drivers to stay away from the area and get out of town because the students have taken to the streets again.

Glass shards fall to the ground somewhere behind the crowd, but it does not distract many who are singing jubilant rugby and football cheer songs. Moses turns back to get a closer look. More stones strike a second floor window, and this time more students notice it. Some of them shout “Peace!” hoping that this will stop the stone throwers. Moses considers leaving the crowd, just a quick walk to the St. Paul’s Chapel compound a few metres away, and then making his way back to the library where he can get a good view of the action from the third floor. Some people act on this impulse, but he stays convinced that it is not yet bad.

“Did you hear that the government bought riot trucks from South Africa?”

“It is true! The trucks spray a special paint—it doesn’t wash off for two days so that police can find you…”

“And you are here?”

“You have to see some things for yourself.”

Haki, but you can’t put anything past M O One!”

“Shortly, we’ll hear that Dagi is a government insider.”

“And we are still here!”

Dagi, at the front, stops the crowd and starts to talk again about peaceful protest.

“Comrades, the hired thugs are here to distract students from real issues,” Dagi adds.

Kweli!” The crowd agrees.

“Those stone throwers are too old to be real university students.” Dagi is still speaking when two men, one in baggy jeans and the other in a suit and holding a walkie talkie, pounce on him, grab both of his arms and lift him off the road, as he grips his belt. He twists and turns while the men lift him higher and run with him suspended in the air and shove him into the lorry that is parked further along the street. Feet scatter in different directions—some into the town center to blend in with the non-student pedestrians and idlers while others retreat to St. Paul’s Chapel. But Moses remains in solidarity with his comrades and continues to chant, “We wont make noise! Hatuta piga kelele!” The build up of uniformed police officers in front of what remains of the crowd does not frighten him. From a loud speaker come the first orders. “Go back to campus!” This is followed by the distinct sound of police car sirens. He knows that sound very well. An assortment of cars—Mahindras, Peugeots, and Nissan—all fitted with those lights and that sound. Moses tightens the backpack straps around his shoulder. He stays.

It is already a much smaller number of students left behind with torn posters and scattered shoes that could not keep up with their fleeing owners. Behind Moses’ crowd, not more than ten meters away, is a distinct stone-throwing group. They hurl objects and smash the abandoned, roadside telephone kiosks and Charity Sweepstakes stands. A tear gas canister lands next to Moses’ feet. The canister is spinning and emitting grey smoke. He covers his eyes. Students push, trip, and fall around him. The burning sensation in his eyes will not stop. His throat burns. Another tear gas canister lands. Squinting from the first one, Moses bows his head just in time to see a hand snatch it and hurl it in the direction where it came from. He has space to run, and sprints with his eyes shut. He falls over someone who is already on the ground. He stands up. All around him other students keep running. He can see a group of students that block direct view of the police he is running away from. Another tear gas canister lands within his reach. He ducks and blocks his eyes anticipating more burning and choking. Nothing happens. He picks up the canister and throws it just as he has seen. Somebody cheers, “Well in Moses! Well in!” It is Mato’s voice.

Mato? Moses thinks, unable to speak because of the burning in his throat.

Some students start picking up stones and breaking concrete slabs from the pavement so that they can throw them at the police. Somebody calls out and says that the roundabout has bigger stones and bricks that could be broken into smaller stones; a few run there. Moses follows. They claim it as a fort in readiness for the next assault. The signing has stopped, but in between coughing, wheezing, and panting students still shout, “Let them come…Comrades!”

Policemen, with shields and batons and tear gas canisters ready, approach the roundabout. At some point before joining university, Moses’ uncle had cautioned him about being seen on television during a riot: “Make the most of being there—throw stones—but be careful that your future employer doesn’t see you!” The reporters are here now, with their microphones and video cameras. Moses, on his hands and knees, looks at his surroundings. Regret sets in. He wipes his face with his shirt. The bruises on his palms, not the thrilling adventure that Mato had alluded to. He coughs, fills his dry mouth with spit, and swallows to cool the fire in his throat. He lifts his unbuttoned shirt and covers his face with it.

The police have created a barrier to keep the students from moving in any direction except back to campus. It is now just gunshots in the air, laughter, screeching whistles, and stampeding feet. There are brief intervals of calm when all around him it’s just panting and coughing and then a loud bang—policemen charge forward and students run backwards. The isolated group of hooligans who started the looting are now fully in charge. Dagi is out of the picture, and the remains of his suit-clad team seem to have scattered. “Mato, I think I’ve had enough for today. Nimetosheka!”

“Save me a chair in the library,” Mato replies.

Moses crosses the road to St. Paul’s Chapel where more students are watching the events from this safe distance. Despite the panic around them, the fruit vendors at the corner continue with business, offloading their stock before the end of the day. He lingers for a bit and watches the overly animated students looking clean and unscathed as they make reluctant steps towards the Uhuru highway, and return screaming and laughing every time they hear gunshots. He feels foolish for not staying behind like them to hear nostalgic second- and third-hand riot stories from previous eras when it was mandatory for students to get NYS paramilitary training before joining university. Their commentary reduces this event to a low-budget production with an inexperienced cast.

“They only use rubber bullets these days.”

“Of course when you are hit, you won’t know the difference.”

“At least you won’t die.”

“True, you die in a safe police cell instead.”

“Very safe.” They laugh. He stops to chat with Pam.

“Are you going back?” he asks her.

“I just want to see how it finishes.”

“I think I’ve tasted enough,” he says. “Update me later.”

Sawa,” she says. She adjusts the sweater, still fastened around her waist. Turns to another student, holds her hand, “Let’s go back” she says. He watches the pair walk back towards the danger, talking animatedly before walking away and returning to the campus.

Outside the library he finds people talking and smoking, and Oketch, the unofficial campus photographer, in his khaki jacket and khaki trousers and with his large bag filled with photographs and camera equipment doing what he does everyday. He gets students to pose for group photos at all the iconic places on campus. Fellow students, some of them earlier deserters from the procession, are telling other students about what is happening beyond the walls that surround the campus. They sit calmly at the stone benches outside the library. Everyone can still hear the clash between students and the police, but it feels distant, further than the ten-minute walk. The tap outside the library has water. Moses waits patiently as another student hurriedly fills two bottles of water and empties one on his head before refilling it again and running off, maybe to continue in the stone-throwing and tear gas exchange. Moses bends down to the knee-high tap and drinks from his palms before washing his face and dusting his trouser. He has forgotten about his bruises on his hands until now.

At the library door he meets a classmate and borrows his notes. “I’ll bring them to your room later today,” he promises. Inside the library, there are people standing at the windows, some foreheads pressed against the glass, watching. He leaves the library, restless. He walks to his hostel, avoiding crowds along the way. Later, in his room, he is woken up by voices and footsteps surging into the hostel. His clock says that it is just a few minutes after 5pm, meaning that he has been asleep for two hours. He gets out of bed and opens his door.

“What is going on?” he asks the first person he sees on the corridor.

“Campus is closing. The library attendants told us to leave. We have to be out by 7pm today.”

“But it’s already after 5!” Moses protests.

“There’s a fresher who was rushed to hospital. Maybe you know the guy? I can’t remember his name. A socio student, a tall jamaa…I have to pack.”

Sawa, good luck!” Moses shuts his door.

Moses unpegs his shirts and trousers that he had hung to dry outside his window. He packs a bag, stuffs everything that he doesn’t want to carry home into his closet. He puts on his sneakers this time. He waits in the room. Every so often he opens the door and looks out to see if Mato is coming. The corridor gets quieter as students leave the hostel. Finally giving in to the urgency of this situation, he scribbles a note: Mato, I have gone home. My phone number is 0722_ _ _ _ 3 call me, we meet next week. He folds it and writes Mato’s name on the top and leaves it on Mato’s desk. Despite his so-called status as an international sportsman, Mato does not yet own a cell phone. Moses straps his bag onto his back and steps out of the room, locks the door, and joins other students heading to the nearest bus stop.

When he gets home his parents are relieved but unsentimental: “At least you are not like your brother—that one used to give us headaches going on the streets.” Moses nods.

Aki Mum, how do you know I wasn’t there?”

“You?” She laughs. “No, you are sensible like your father.”

“I should have delayed paying your hostel fee,” his father complains. “This is why I was telling you to be a day scholar for the first semester. Now all that money, down the drain!” Moses and his mother smile. For years his father’s favorite opening statement has always been, “I don’t have any money.” From childhood, Moses has known that to get anything from his father, he has got to ask his mother or else start with a disarming statement like, “I have saved X amount so I just need Y amount to pay the balance.” Moses’ father is always impressed by any suggestion of savings.

“Don’t worry, when we re-open, you won’t have to worry about that.”

Jennifer the new maid prepares supper. While he has been away, Jennifer’s predecessor travelled home for a brief visit and decided not to return. Moses and his parents trade student riots stories; both his father and mother had taken part in one back in their student days.

“There was this girl, Gathoni, she was in my year,” his mother starts. “She made the GSU officer believe that she had drenched him with paraffin.”

“But it was a bucket full of water.” His father lights up when he says this.

“She stood at the door in her room with a matchstick ready to strike and said to him, ‘Nitawasha!’”

“Did she?” Moses asks.

“No, the officer was just shocked. He turned and walked away!”

“Ati, just turned away and ran?” Moses is not convinced.

“It’s true!” His mother bursts out laughing.

Lakini Gathoni used to make up some of those stories!” his father adds. His mother puts down her spoon. “No this one is true! Our rooms had wooden floor tiles, and we came back from the long holiday and the floor was damaged.”

“What happened to her after you graduated? Pass me the salt.”

“I don’t know, there are people I have never seen since graduating.”

“Your rooms used to have wooden tiles?” Moses asks.

“Those were the days! Yours is just a shell of the university we went to. A shell.”

Moses wonders, recalling Joseph’s brief stint in student politics. Joseph, who has since graduated and moved out of home, had briefly been involved in student government. Moses’ parents were always quarreling, and his father even threatened to have Joseph thrown in jail for a weekend, just to teach him a lesson. His mother would never have agreed to it, but somehow the threat was convincing enough especially because Joseph and Moses had always heard of strict parents who did that kind of thing or took their children to approved schools. His parents wanted him to study and leave the university in one piece. In the end, Joseph gave up student politics.

For now, Moses is content to enjoy free food and not yet concerned about the indefinite break. Later in the news broadcast, they all watch, entertained and appalled by the story about the student riots.

“Come and see!” Moses’ mother calls Jennifer out of the kitchen. There is an image of an ambulance, lights flash but the sound is almost muted. The camera is too far to catch specific details. The wounded student still remains unidentified, but Moses is just relieved that the press did not catch him or Mato on camera. He recognizes some faces that flash across the television screen. He doesn’t watch the rest of the news but sits there long after everybody has gone to bed.

The following morning, Moses settles in front of the television just the way he used to before he started at university. He wishes he had waited for Mato just a little longer. The house phone rings and Moses picks it up expecting Mato’s voice.

“Hello, Mato?”

“Hello, can I speak to Moses Kibara?”

“Yes, this is Moses, who’s speaking?”

“My name is Wilson Obure, calling from Hall Four.” Moses recognizes the custodian’s voice.

“Yes, can I help you?”

“You need to report to the hostel. It is regarding your room. Please come quickly or we will be forced to break down the door.” Moses wants to tell him the door is already broken anyway—it is practically held together by broken nails—but the custodian doesn’t give him time to talk. He hangs up once he is sure that Moses will be on his way. Moses changes into a clean shirt and leaves the house.

Moses meets his roommate’s brother Kevin at the custodian’s office. He stands tall very much like an older, well-fed version of Mato. He has thin, unkempt hair and the same bushy eyebrows. Moses now realises that Mato might be the unnamed student who had to be rushed to hospital. Kevin only states that he needs to collect Mato’s things. Moses wonders how getting Mato’s property from the campus is important if he is in hospital. He suspects that Mato is already dead, maybe they are just trying to delay the shock, the thought frightens him. He decides that if that were the case then Kevin wouldn’t be so calm. He opens his door and immediately notices that the note he left on the desk is not there. His heartbeat quickens before he spots the note the floor. He sighs, deciding it was probably the draft from opening or shutting the door that caused the piece of paper to fall down. Everything else is exactly as he had left it. “This is Mato’s side,” he tells Kevin. Kevin first opens Mato’s closet. He stands and surveys the content. Moses asks, “Is there something you are looking for—I could help?” Kevin shakes his head, pulls the suitcase above the shelf, and dumps it on the bed. He opens and then turns back to the closet and selects items to put into the suitcase. Moses watches, folds his arms across his chest, and then steps back to sit on his own bed, rests his elbows on his knees, cracks his knuckles and waits.

“Are you sure I can’t help?” he asks again. He notices that Kevin shifts a little to block his view of the suitcase. “No, nothing, just making sure I have everything that he needs.” Kevin dismisses him.

“Can I come to the hospital?”

“No,” he responds almost before Moses finishes the question. “Not today, tomorrow maybe. They are still doing tests.”

“What sort of tests?”

“He hurt his head. The doctors have to make sure it isn’t too serious.” He stops packing, shuts the suitcase, and pulls it off the bed. He straightens the bed cover.

“Let me help you with that,” Moses says, grabbing the suitcase.

“Thank you,” Kevin says.

Moses carries the suitcase all the way to the bus stop before they part. Moses spends the rest of his day roaming around the town unable to calm the growing trepidation inside. Everything in town is back to normal since the previous day’s riots. On University Way there are still shards of glass, stones, and leaves scattered but traffic flows slowly as usual. He gets home in time for supper. He does not tell his parents about his day or his roommate in hospital. He decides that he should talk to his older brother about it instead, or at least wait until he sees Mato in hospital.

“Have they said anything about reopening the university?” his father asks.

“I haven’t heard anything,” Moses says.

“You should find work,” his father says. “We can’t have you eating all day.”

His mother, without skipping a beat, adds, “Moses, I told Aunty Joyce that you can help her this weekend.” Aunty Joyce rents out tents for wedding receptions. He nods and finishes his food. His mother wonders about this son who is one day happy and the next day sulking, as if staying at home for a full day is such a punishment. She decides that working for Aunty Joyce will do him good. Moses stays up, watches television, and thinks about Mato. At some point in the night, he decides to write Mato a note. I might be overreacting but… As he writes it he chides himself for concluding that there is some kind of conspiracy.

It is easy enough to find Mato’s ward in the hospital the next morning. Moses walks in with a packet of orange juice and bananas for the patient. He recognizes Kevin, and then it is obvious that the person in the wheelchair with his head partially covered with bandages is Mato. Moses waves back at the bandaged hand that acknowledges his presence.

“You are lucky, we are leaving. The ambulance is waiting for us downstairs.” Kevin does not hide his irritation.

“Did you bring me those socio notes?” Mato asks.

“I even copied them for you,” Moses replies before introducing himself to Mato’s mother. “I share a room with Martin.” He explains as he greets her. She is tall just like her sons. He is surprised by how firm her handshake is. She lets Moses take charge of pushing the wheelchair. Moses is glad about this because he senses that Kevin does not want him there. Kevin speaks to his mother as they all walk. Moses speaks to Mato. “I don’t understand how it happened, you were not even in front….”

Bahati mbaya.” Mato calls it bad luck. Moses leans to the side and says, “I did not hear what you said,” while slipping the note that he wrote at home into Mato’s side pocket.

“He will get better care at the hospital we are taking him to.” Mato’s mother appears calm even though her voice betrays her anxiety.

Moses pushes the wheelchair down the ramp that leads them to an outdoor parking. Moses looks to Kevin for direction. There’s no ambulance waiting, only parked cars. Kevin points out the cream white station wagon just a few meters away from the wheelchair. Moses pushes the wheelchair while speaking to Mato, “Here is my cell phone number.” This time he gives him the note he had left in the hostel.

Moses and Kevin together help Mato into the back seat of the car. The wheelchair is deposited in the boot while Mato slides into the center so that he ends up seated between his mother and another male passenger. The male passenger does not introduce himself even when Moses takes the time to go round to his side of the car. His window stays shut. Kevin seats in the front seat and the car moves away. Moses returns to the pavement, staring at the driver and trying to memorize the letters and number on the license plate KAA  _ _ _ J. The car backs out of the parking space and exits the hospital security barriers. There’s no reason for the watchmen at the gate to detain this car.

Moses traces his way back into the hospital and Mato’s ward hoping that in some way this will answer the question he has not yet formed in his head. It is also the only way he thinks to get out of the hospital since he came in through a different entrance. Nurses and doctors in uniform attend to patients, and the reception area is crowded with patients waiting to see doctors. It smells of methylated spirit and tropical air freshener, sickening. He doesn’t see anyone he could talk to even if he wanted to say something. From behind her desk, the receptionist calls out the next patient, “Room 104.” He walks out. He walks to the bus stop and gets into the first bus he sees. He doesn’t even wait to hear the conductor say its destination. After two stops he realizes that it is not going in the direction he wants to go. When the bus slows down in traffic, he rushes to the door, pays the bus conductor, and jumps out. He decides to walk. It is not too hot outside. Cars and buses pass him as he makes his way to his destination. He doesn’t hear the bicycle bell as it rings behind him. He thinks he is walking quickly, but men, women, and school children overtake him. He knows that it is going to take him a long time to get to the address in Hurlingham where, as he expects, there will be no hospital, not even a small clinic or pharmacy. He thinks that once he gets there—once he confirms that there is nothing there—he will think about what to do next. He will know what to do once he gets there.

 

 

Lutivini Majanja lives in Nairobi, Kenya. Her writing has been published in Clarion, Lawino Magazine, Kwani?, McSweeney’s, and The Golden Key. She published her first Isukha language story translation in Jalada. Lutivini is a Callaloo Fellow and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. 

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