Your votes are in and this week’s Story of the Week is…
Surly Sally by Denis Kabi. Read it below.
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Due to the demanding nature of the course, I spend most of my days in lecture halls of the university attending lecturers, and the rest of the evenings (and free time) in the university’s library studying. We, the students, must be prepared to sit for continuous assessment tests which are held almost every other month. The grades attained in the CATs decide whether the student will proceed to the next level of the difficult course or not.
I must devote all my energy and effort into this course. I must pass all the CATs. I must graduate with upper class honours. I must get my degree in dentistry. I must get certified and get my license from the doctors and dentists board. I must (after acquiring my practicing license) set up my private practice, a clinic, a dentist’s clinic. I must! I must! I must!
Recently the students of UoN went on the rampage; stoning motorists along the streets of Nairobi, looting goods from supermarkets, uprooting roadside billboards, and generally being a nuisance – criminal nuisance. I didn’t see the logic of participating in the senseless destruction of property, though I supported the initial cause that took the students to the streets.The students were enraged by the brazen murder of a couple of human rights crusaders. The two men – the human rights crusaders – were gunned down in broad day light right outside the perimeter fence of the university. Government security agents in civilian clothes were accused of committing the heinous crime. No one has been arrested or arraigned in court or charged for the murders. Most reported murders in Kenya are not investigated, hence the murderers are not arrested, arraigned in court, prosecuted, and sentenced to death or life imprisonment.
Murderers and criminals have a field day in this hellish land of impunity, Kenya.
That evening after the riots, the university’s administrators announced that the campus was closed and all students should vacate the university compound. Under the stern watch of a battalion of armed policemen, we packed our suitcases and hastened out of the gates of the university and headed back to our homes. The semester will have to be postponed to the latter part of the year. The seven year course could last eight years (or nine or even ten years) if the students riot again and cause more closures. I am disillusioned with learning. I’m bored; bored with education.
During my idle time at home, I met a man. He dropped out of school in primary school. He now worked as a driver of a matatu on the route of the housing estate where I live. Whenever he’s driving his matatu and sees me standing at the bus stop waiting for a bus, he stops the matatu, gets off it, holds my hand, and begs me to get into it. Most of the times I agree to board his matatu. (He’s very persistent.) He lets me sit at the front seat of the matatu beside him. I travel free of charge. Sare, the Sheng’ speaking youngsters call it. I’ve been enjoying these sare rides for over a year now.
About six months ago, the driver’s language turned from ‘you-can-ride-in-my-matatu-for free’ to ‘I-want-to-sleep-with-you.’ Most drivers and conductors of matatus are like this. They’re skilled, resourceful lechers! Whenever I told the driver that I was broke, he gave me money. Sometimes hundreds of shillings, at other times thousands of shillings. I was charmed and thought that he was a kind and generous man.
“Maybe I should reciprocate his kindness,” I mused during one of my daydreams. “What if I give in; give him what he wants. It’s only sex; shedding of clothes, spreading of legs, key and lock mechanics.”
We did it on the back seat of his matatu. It was in the evening, right after he’d dropped off the passengers and had parked the matatu in the local petrol station’s yard. As a precaution, I bought my own condoms and unwrapped one and put it on him before we did it. He was a restless lover; in a hurry to finish. I didn’t enjoy it. After he finished and was about to withdraw himself from my body, I happened to look down and saw a condom on the floor of the matatu. Upon looking at his member, I saw that he wasn’t wearing a condom. For the ten unexciting minutes that I’d lay on that seat, rocking to his rigid motions, I realized with horror that we’d been having unprotected sex!
“Why did you remove it?” I shouted at him while hurriedly putting my clothes back on.
“I don’t know,” he said nonchalantly, he too dressing up. “It must’ve slipped off.”
“Do you realize the danger you exposed me to, you illiterate, uncouth, slum dog?” I fumed.
He just locked his matatu and zipped up his fly and triumphantly strode away. Since that day, he doesn’t give me free rides or money. I am cynical about romance. I’m bored; bored with men.
While still at home, my mother caused an uproar when she accused my father of sleeping with the maid.
“I didn’t do it,” my dad kept saying.
“Admit it you horny goat, you did it with the maid,” my mother replied venomously. “The way you look at her; a predatory gleam sparkling in your narrowed eyes. The way you talk to her with a lowered, mellow, conspiratorial tone. You must be guilty, Baba Sally. Guilty of sleeping with the mboch!”
“Prove it, you foolish, frumpy, halitosic hag,” my father fumed. “Table proof that I touched that illiterate, unkept maid. I don’t talk, let alone sleep, with idiotic women.”
“Proof, eh?” my mother roared in rage. “Woman’s intuition. It’s never wrong. Cosmo magazine said so. If a woman suspects that her husband is cheating, then he’s guilty of cheating! It’s automatic!”
“Hogwash!” my father ranted. “Maybe if you took proper care of yourself – wore nice clothes; put on some perfume; got your hair regularly done; smiled – and stopped acting and looking like an octogenarian cucu (granny), other women wouldn’t catch my eye! You have to style up and be willing to try new positions, woman. Missionary just won’t do. After the Monica affair was exposed, venerable Hillary had to learn to go down on her knees to please randy Bill.”
“That’s a cold and hurtful thing to say to your wife of twenty-three years; the mother of your three daughters,” my menopausal mother said, lowering her breaking voice. She then began to weep loudly.
I was seated on the dining table eating breakfast, passively watching them go at each other. These verbal spurs had been going on for the last ten years. Each year they got nastier and louder. Since my two younger sisters were in boarding school most of the time, I was the only one who had to witness these searing spurs. I saw my middle-aged father point at me.
“You!” he said. “Come and help your mother stop crying. I can’t stand looking at her when she’s like this. It’s as repulsive as looking at a tailed hairy beast shitting while dangling from a tree.”
I stood up from the dining table, went to my mother’s side, and put my hand around her shaking shoulders. “Stop crying, mom,” I said gently. “Stop crying.”
With teary eyes she gazed up at my father and spoke to him. “How come you don’t want to touch me; hold me; sooth me when am hurting; and tell me everything will be alright?”
With a bewildered look in his eyes, my father just shrugged his shoulders and walked out through the front door and slammed it shut. His car’s engine sounded in the garage when he switched it on, after which he reversed it and drove away. My mother wept some more. It had now become my job to sooth her and hold her till she stopped crying. It took hours to do this. I am skeptical about marriage.
Am bored; bored with my family.
One Sunday morning I woke up early and decided to go to church. I hadn’t stepped in a church since I was eighteen and in high school. Our high school teachers forced us to attend mass. We had a choice of either attending the catholic service or the protestant one. The catholic service was shorter – only half an hour. I, and most students, chose the catholic mass. (When I was a child I remember that I regularly attended catholic mass and I was henceforth baptized and confirmed by a catholic priest at Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi. Hence I have a sentimental attachment to this denomination.)
I arrived in church and sat at the backmost pew. Pious folks who regularly attended mass were known to seat near the altar. (Closer to God, apparently.)
The converse of this presumption was that the impious folks who hardly attended mass should seat at the back. I gazed at the priest as he preached and waved his hands wildly to emphasize a point. One could never tell where those hands had been, I thought. Maybe he spent the night masturbating; or maybe caressing somebody’s wife; or worse still, molesting an innocent child.
“I’m not taking holy communion from those filthy hands,” I quickly decided. “I might puke!”
They disgust me – these hypocritical men of the cloth. Latter day Pharisees! I’d rather listen to a prostitute preaching a sermon at the altar. Recently the Kenyan media was awash with exposes and news reports about the pedophiles and perverts gracing our pulpits. I was not shocked by the news reports concerning supposedly celibate priests preying on the most vulnerable members of society – orphaned children and pauperised widows.
All those years that the priests spend in seclusion in the seminaries and parishes, their hormones raging, with no avenue to vent their sexual frustration or express their naturally-occurring sexual feelings; it’s no wonder that they metamorphosed into sexual predators. Men need sex just as badly as they need water. The longer a man stays without doing it, the more intense is his craving for it. And, conversely, the longer a woman stays without doing it the more she loses interest in doing it. To prove this theory, try finding a news report in Kenya (or elsewhere) about celibate nuns routinely molesting children. A handful of isolated cases may exist, but it’s not as endemic as that of celibate male priests.
There’s no clearer argument than this for celibacy to be outlawed. Catholic priests should be allowed to have sex; lots of sex. Of course they should be doing this with their sole legally married wives.
But the clowns at the Vatican – led by the head clown himself, the pope – are resisting this argument; refusing to allow nature to take its course. A man should only have sex with a woman – his wife or girlfriend. Men should not prey on little boys and girls! Why can’t the Vatican understand this logic? Four year olds who’ve been raped and molested understand it! I am disenchanted with churches.
I’m bored; bored with religion.
I’ve stopped going to church and I now prefer to watch the Christian TV stations when am in need of spiritual nourishment. But today when I switched on the Christian TV channel, I saw that it is out of air – hazy innumerable grey dots on the TV screen. They’re doing routine maintenance on their transmitters, apparently.
A few minutes later when the signal came back, a series of commercials were played followed by a succession of pointless music videos. My spirit yearned to listen to a bible expert expounding on a chapter of the Holy Book – not flashy commercials and irreverent music videos! I can get this decadent stuff from secular TV channels. So I flip the channels and stop at a channel airing local news. It’s the same retinue of Kenyan political drama and intrigues. Parliamentarians have increased their salaries and allowances but refused to pay taxes on these. Parliamentarians (who are also the cabinet ministers) have allocated themselves each ten fuel-guzzling expensive cars and ten armed policemen to guard them and their kids, spouses, and mistresses. Now there’s a shortage of policemen to check spiralling crime in the city, towns, villages, and hamlets.
Parliamentarians are also the assistant cabinet ministers. Each cabinet minister has a minimum of three assistants who practically do nothing but politick all day long. These assistants add no value to the Kenyan economy. Their astronomic salaries and allowances are a paralyzing burden to the hapless Kenyan taxpayer. Parliamentarians don’t want to debate on the contentious issue of the constitutional reform. (Do we even need a new constitution? I’ve always asked myself. What’s wrong with the current one? It has served us well since we gained independence from the British colonialists, hasn’t it?) Parliamentarians are not doing enough of this; instead they’re doing too much of that. They’re not listening to their electorates enough, but are talking and bickering amongst themselves too much. They’re too sensitive to their personal welfare and comfort, but criminally insensitive to their electorate’s wellbeing.
Parliamentarians! Parliamentarians! Parliamentarians!
If this clan of clowns are the main stumbling block to Kenya’s prosperity, then why don’t we get rid of them all! Permanently! A big bomb in parliament buildings on budget day, perhaps? I don’t know…
Other news items catch my attention in the news bulletin. Alcoholism and drug abuse amongst the youth is on the increase. Food prices escalate by the hour. Fuel costs are astronomical. Unemployment skyrockets. Corporations are retrenching staff. The perennial traffic jams in Nairobi are costing the economy millions of shillings. HIV/AIDS infection rates jump. Violent crime spirals out of control, ad infinitum. I switch off the TV. I am pessimistic about politics.
I’m bored; bored with Kenya.
On another day as I was walking in Nairobi CBD after buying some DVDs, I saw a white tent set up on the pavement of the street, just beside the Kencom bus stage. A large piece of cloth with the letters VCT written on it was hanged over the side of the tent. I knew that VCT stood for voluntary counseling and testing centre; a place where one got their blood tested for HIV. I also saw that there were a bunch of people in white dustcoats seated on plastic chairs outside the tent while one of them was standing. The one standing was holding a microphone and was speaking into it. A large black speaker cabinet stood beside him and on top of it was an amplifier. The cord of the microphone he was holding was connected to the amplifier. His voice was thus loud.
The man speaking into the microphone appealed to the passerbys to visit a VCT centre (such as the one behind him) and get counselled, tested, and find out their HIV status. Our eyes met and the man holding the microphone beckoned at me to come towards the tent. Other pedestrians hurried worriedly away. Driven by an inexplicable impulse, I strode along the pavement towards the white tent. I knew I was healthy and thus didn’t need to get tested for HIV.
The last time that I had visited a hospital seeking treatment was when I was in the first year of high school and had scrapped my knee badly after a fall when playing basketball. Apart from the flu and stomach cramps caused by menstruation, I had never over the preceding years needed medication except for anti-flu tablets and some painkillers. One of the people seated on the plastic chairs, a burly fortyish woman, stood up and held out her hand to me for a handshake. I smiled nervously at her and shook her hand. She then guided me into the quiet tent and we both sat apposite each other on white plastic chairs.
She spent the next fifteen minutes explaining in detail a whole bunch of things about HIV/AIDS. Out of respect for her, I sat quietly and listened while nodding indulgently.
I couldn’t wait to get the HIV test done and thus have my negative status confirmed, get the heck out of that creepy tent, and go back home. I had a bunch of new bootleg DVDs which I’d just bought on a stall in Tom Mboya Street and couldn’t wait to get home and spend the afternoon watching them.
After the detailed lecture, the woman picked up a pair of surgical gloves from a tray on the table and put them on. She then picked up some apparatus from the tray and said that she was going to prick my finger with a needle, draw some blood, and paste it on another plastic gadget.
“If it turns pink then you are negative. But if it turns blue, then you are positive,” she said melancholically. She held my right hand, raised the middle finger and pricked its tip with a needle. A globule of ruddy blood surfaced from my fingertip. She smeared the blood on the plastic gadget, let go of my hand, and laid the gadget on the table. She handed me a piece of cotton wool and told me to apply pressure with it on the tip of my perforated finger. I did as told. She then gazed at the plastic gadget waiting to see the result.
“Why is it taking so long?” I asked when five minutes passed and the plastic thingy hadn’t beeped or vibrated to announce the result. I only expected one result: negative. There was no way that I could be HIV positive. I was beautiful, plump, and healthy!
After another five minutes, the woman turned to me. She wasn’t smiling. “I’m sorry, Miss Sally,” she said pensively. “But it turned blue. You are HIV positive.”
I rose to my feet, mortified. “Say that again!” I exclaimed, scratching my plaited head. The paper bag containing the DVDs fell and scattered on the floor, the sharp sound of cracking plastic startling the woman.
“You are HIV positive!” she repeated, the gravity of the words piercing like a machete into the core of my being – the soul. “Please sit down, Miss, and we’ll talk some more about living positively with HIV and AIDS.”
I stormed out of the tent and ran down the street, weaving through the bustling crowds. For an hour, I just kept walking round and round the labyrinthine streets of Nairobi CBD, not knowing what to think of the shocking revelation that I was a victim; a victim of the dreaded scourge called AIDS.
“But how did I get infected?” I kept asking myself.
The scene of the ten unexciting minutes that I’d spent on the back seat of a matatu with the driver six months ago kept replaying in my mind… the condom on the floor of the matatu… his withdrawal… gazing at him and seeing that he wasn’t wearing anything…
“That must be the day I got infected,” I concluded. I was not a virgin on that day that I lay with the matatu driver; hence it’s possible that I got infected elsewhere.
I stopped walking on the pavement of the street, thinking deeply, unaware of the street I’d wandered to. Pedestrians in a hurry brushed against me as they hastened away while cars zoomed up and down the roads. When I looked up I saw a large steel fly-over built over the dual carriage way. It was designed to help pedestrians cross the busy road safely; but the pedestrians routinely ignored it and preferred to risk death and dash across the busy road.
An inexplicable impulse pulled me towards the disused fly-over. I went up the fly-over’s steep steel steps and stood leaning against the balcony-like railings of the elevated steel path.
I looked to the side of the road and saw the canopies of the recently built hawkers market named Muthurwa. It dawned on me that I was standing high up on the Muthurwa fly-over. Cars zoomed at high speed on either side of the inclining tarmac roads. I could see the multi-coloured vehicles’ roofs swooshing under my feet. I stood facing away from the CBD, parallel to the stream of vehicles leaving town.
I don’t want to live with AIDS; I don’t want to experience the slow nasty death caused by innumerable opportunistic infections; I don’t want to swallow a multitude of bitter antiretroviral pills everyday. I didn’t want to live! I didn’t want to live! I didn’t want to live! I am apathetic about living.
I’m bored; bored with life!
I looked over my shoulder and saw a large ten wheel lorry coming around the Wakulima Market corner and speed down the inclining smooth tarmac. When the lorry was close enough, I tipped over the railing and fell out of the fly-over. I hit the tarmac hard and my body was pulverized by the lorry’s screeching wheels. Women screamed in horror. There was a flurry of screeching car tyres as traffic on both sides of the dual carriageway came to an abrupt halt. A crowd of onlookers characteristically congregated at the scene to gawk at the bloody mangled remains of a once promising girl called Sally. Bye.
© Denis Kabi 2009 www.deniskabi.wordpress.com