On the 3rd floor of the Kenya National Hospital is the Cancer wing. It is a drab place, not a place you would choose to be on a Friday morning. It is grey on the outside and a shady green on the inside. It smells like methylated spirit making love to dettol disinfectant….plain nasty! I should mention my use of the word “wing” is deliberately generous. It came about when the hospital’s administrators noting that they had “eaten” all the development money for the year 2018. Hastily converted an unused hall, repainted it, hired some medical beds and equipment from the private hospital across the road, called a press conference and happily launched the “Cancer wing.” As a citizen, I forgave them for this. My newspaper sent me to cover the launch. They had promised snacks and bitings, we never found out if they ate all the snacks or all the money for the snacks. As a citizen, I can never forgive them for this.
To get to the wing once you get off the lift, you have to walk some 15 meters and then take a right. There is no sign announcing it. Perhaps, a deliberate omen. It would be unwise to announce that this is where Kenyans come to die. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about it. Except perhaps for the doctors and nurses who work here. They are magicians performing miracles in a place God long forgot existed. There’s a flurry of activity even at 7:30 am. Doctors walking around with a train of medical interns. The doctor looking like a wise sage, and the interns looking very similar to the sycophants that accompany politicians in rallies. There’s a long line of patients already. People from all over the country congregating here to book their place in one of the two radiation machines still active. You would be forgiven if you felt patriotic here. Bonded to your countrymen as all of you wait your turn. There are no tribes in the line here. The only thing dividing them, perhaps the stages of their cancer.
The Cancer wing is more of a large hall broken into wards and offices. The wards here are divided into three. Two adult wings, and a pediatric wing. The children’s ward is at the tail end of the Cancer wing. No one wants to go there.
I sit just outside the doctor’s office and watch. If you chance to be there in the morning. You will notice old men and women walking in and out of the room in Hazmat suits, blue ones. Similar to those you see in the news when there’s an Ebola outbreak in Congo and the white man comes to save us. I’m told only old doctors, their best lives behind them accept to work there. The machines apparently leak radiation. This is unfortunately, not in the brochure the PR people hand me.
On the walls, just outside the doctors offices, there are pictures and paintings. On one painting, a bible verse is visible. Proverbs 17:22, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.“The plaque beneath it notes that the painting was donated by a rich man’s church along Ngong Road, the one with pastors called Daddy. I wonder why, daddy did not declare eternal healing here, but instead donated a cheap painting. There’s also an interesting picture to the left of the painting. White faces scattered across the white paper. There’s a smattering of black faces here and there. The photographer must have suggested it. “Hey, blackie. Get in the frame, we need a couple of your brown faces.” Black faces are always good when seeking donor funding. They reek of poverty…no? The caption proudly announces, the Jewish league of the United States was here with goodies. They donated bed sheets and more bed sheets, then they went back to the US to spread the gospel of how much they changed beloved Africa. We would never have survived without them.
I am seated joylessly on one of those old metal chairs that are ever present in waiting areas of public institutions. Someone in 1970 was probably given the tender to provide beautiful, artistic chairs for all public facilities in Kenya. He delivered the chairs a week late and promised to deliver the beauty and artistry later. We are still waiting. I am waiting for the big man himself, the “mukubwa” who signs cheques. The luhya lady at the reception was kind enough to mention that “mukubwa” arrives at 10am. It is now 7:55 am. I unfortunately made the mistake of arriving on time and on the agreed upon date. A sly lady will hours later mention that I should come a week from now. Or if I am in a hurry, “si ununue chai kidogo tuharakishe hii mambo.” I will not buy chai kidogo. Didn’t we say fighting corruption starts with me on twitter?
I am chasing payment for a freelance writing assignment I did for the hospital. Chasing because these folks never pay without a fight. I have even donned my official chasing attire, a suit. My wife tried to convince me to wear a tie. Fortunately, I am not that desperate. As I wait, the administrators trip over themselves to be nice to me. They hate writers, especially those who write for national newspapers. They worry I might write something that will embarrass them. Good thing, they haven’t found out I only write what my editor wants me to write. They send pretty young interns to walk me around, and they even offer me tea. The young lady walking me around is apparently from PR. She swears for the 15th time that the hospital has turned a new leaf from last year. I am tempted to ask whether they still rape young pregnant girls at night. But my Lord and Savior holds my tongue. I do want to get paid after all.
It will be another hour before I am finally informed “mukubwa.” will not make it today. Can I come tomorrow? Of course I can, I had nothing else to do tomorrow. I walk off in a huff. I only stop to speak with the tea lady. I lie that her tea was exceptional. Whaaat? You never know when you will need her chai again. As I step onto the lift, I make a mental list of who would be available for a chat. My employed friends are unfortunately all at work pretending the Excel spreadsheet is funny. When we all know they are laughing at their 17th meme of the day. I remember my friend Mary mentioned a friend she thought was worth listening to. She even sent me his number. He has a story that should be worth coffee at Caffe Java’s. I threaten not to talk to her ever again if she sends a boring story my way. There is nothing worse than listening to someone tell their story for 3 hours, all while calculating how many Kenyan songs Kiss FM plays in a day.
I call him. He picks ups after the 4th ring. A respectable way to pick calls. My editor believes that the secret to success is picking calls before the 3rd ring. This is part of the reason I sometimes pray that they fire her. I have not been to church in years, with the sole exception of funerals and weddings that I am forced to attend by the wife. Perhaps this explains why my prayers are not heard. He is unfortunately not available today. “Can we sit down and have this conversation tomorrow?” He says yes. I say my goodbye and wait for him to acknowledge.
“Cool, see you tomorrow,” he grunts, then adds “goodbye babe.” Then he ends the call. I am shell shocked. He did not give me a chance to correct him.
This is the first time a man has called me babe. I am not too sure if this is something I should tell my wife. Should I call him and ask him to clarify? Was it a mistake? Does he think I am a baby? Or did something in my voice give him indications that I am a hot babe? I call him again, I cannot live with the suspense. I need to know what he meant. He does not pick up my call. I’m I a baby or a babe?
We will never know.
So this blog just got nominated for the Sondeka Awards – Short Story category. Help a brother bring this home. Vote for Cj Gicheru (Short Story category) and change the world, one sex story at a time 😂😂😂 https://awards.sondeka.org/
PS…for all of you government folk, this is fiction. Please don’t sue 🙂