Club Spice, Nairobi.
The house band is playing Lady Maureen’s “Yom Ka Budho.” The women on the floor, dance softly. Enjoying the work that the band puts into meting out the music. One drunk man in a suit dances vigorously, out of line with the beat. He seems to be in particular need to leave his problems on the floor. Everyone ignores him.
The waitresses are shuffling from the counter and back. Carrying trays of beers for their patrons. The people imbibe with careless abandon. It is Friday, they don’t have to work tomorrow. The drunk man, Ondieki, gets tired from all the dancing. He takes a seat at the center of the club, just next to the dance floor. He keeps trying to catch a woman’s eye but they all seem to have agreed to ignore him. He even sends some drinks to the yellowish woman at the corner and she sends them back.
“Who does she think she is?” He wonders. “She isn’t even pretty,” he consoles himself. The song comes to an end, and the guitarist starts a tune familiar to the crowd. The vocalist starts…
The women go wild, shouting their agreement with the vocalist. Now the waists whine faster. Feet shuffling quicker. Heads bobbing, and quite a few shoulders have become like cartilage. Moving of their own free will. It is party time. The guitarist quickens the pace, laying the path. The vocalist continues…
“Nyako apenji awinjo wendi iwero, chieng osepotho awinjo wedni
Nyako apenji jo dala miel ango yawa, chieng osepotho dala e wateri
Baby aora isekalo, darling chieng wananere ayaye ayaye ayayeeee”
You would be forgiven now for imagining that the club requires bones to be left at the door. The women outdo themselves to the band’s rendition of Winyo’s “Gari Teri.” The men, they watch. Hungrily.
Ondieki particularly, is bereft. So many options, but none willing to serve him. They seem to have an aversion to dancing with him. He is tired of watching derrieres shake. He takes action. He reaches out from his seat and grabs a handful of ass! The woman turns and Ondieki is momentarily on the receiving end of well-aimed slaps. He does not get the chance to recover. The clubs bouncers step in, he is grabbed by his armpits and lifted up.
It is drizzling outside, the type of rain that falls unwillingly. A few steady drops every 3 seconds. As if the raindrops would rather be anywhere but here, maybe in the ocean in Malindi. Waiting for a short girl with perky breasts to come into it instead of raining down into the dirtier side of Nairobi.
Two big men open the door, between them a black man in a suit. They throw him on the sidewalk without the gentleness you would expect a customer to be treated with.
“Hata pombe ya hapa si tamu, kumbafu nyinyi!” Ondieki abuses them as they turn to leave, and gets a kick in the ass for it. That silences him for a bit, until the big men go back in and shut the door.
“Wanaume wawili wakubwa, mnapiga mtu mmoja? Kujeni mmoja, mmoja mtaniona!”
The door opens again slightly and one of the bouncers shows his face. This somehow gives Ondieki the energy needed to spring up from the sidewalk and walk away. He heads quickly into the side street just next to the bar. Pulling his coat a little closer around him. It is cold. He coughs, the dry type that feels like someone took a saw to the back of the throat. He stands next to a wall, with the words “Flossin Mauwano” painted on it.
He fumbles with his trousers, reaches in and grabs hold of it. He gently removes it and points it at the electricity pole. He pees. It comes out first in a quick gush, then a long steady stream of the smelliest yellow urine. Most of it somehow lands on him. He likes it, the warmth and the gentleness of liquid sprinkling down. His brain cannot, for now, appreciate the necessity of separating the urine from himself. It trickles down to a stop. He shakes it, letting 3 more drops fall, then he stashes it back into his trousers. Careful not to let it get caught by the zipper. He then staggers out of the side street.
Streetlights. One keeps blinking.
Ondieki ignores it. He moves quickly towards River Road. If he cannot get high, he might as well get laid. He stops at the intersection of Tom Mboya street and River Road. Just past where Jack and Jill used to be. During the day, you can find matatus that ply the Suswa-Narok route. But right now, the space is a parking for the vehicles or a cheap brothel. Where for a couple of coins, an enterprising driver will let you use the boot of his 14 seater for one or two things. The clients usually don’t last very long.
Kamau is still standing on his corner. Selling smokies. He makes a killing selling them at night for a 5 shilling premium. Plus it does not hurt that the drunks who are his main clients often forget the change.
“Weeeeeewe, kwani huna bibi?” Ondieki asks.
Kamau ignores him, but when Ondieki persists. Kamau points at him with a knife. Ondieki quickly scampers away past him. Kamau has a horrible temper when angry.
Ondieki is suddenly filled with the urge to sing. He holds it. The cops on this side of town do not take kindly to singing drunks. He walks faster. Staggers really. He does it in a 3 step format that always works for him. 3 steps forward, stops to steady himself, mutters something and repeat. Every so often, he dives into his right-hand side pocket, fishes out a bottle of something and takes a gulp. It was the only thing he got from the club before the bouncers kicked him out. He continues walking.
He can see it now.
A dark blue sign proudly announcing “Wakihoto Bed and Breakfast.” There’s a line just below these words announcing that management will only allow married couples to patronize their esteemed hotel. A joke perhaps. He walks faster. A part of him remembering how his girl’s thighs feel. He changes now into a 5 step format. It is a little faster, but it makes him a lot less stable. His joy refuses to contain itself. He starts to sing.
“Amenitendeeea, amenitendeeea. Emmanueli. Amenitendeeea!”
A terrible choice of song considering only sin is on his mind tonight. A dog barks. Ondieki barks back. The watchmen at the Muhindi owned shops open their eyes to see what the fuss is all about. Seeing Ondieki, they go back to guarding the shops or sleeping, depends on how you choose to see it.
Just outside “Wakihoto bed and Breakfast” there’s a short line of sparsely dressed ladies. They watch his approach with disgust. He always wants to take them upstairs but never has any money. Plus, he has a preference for Wairimu. They can see one side of his trousers is wet. After every 5 steps he stops, fishes something out of his trousers and takes a gulp, attempts to return it and ends up falling. No one attempts to go help him up. He lies there attempting to rise, he will shortly accept his fate. Resigning to a night on the cold gravel.
Footsteps. Coming down from Wakihoto. Voices. A man and a woman. The woman speaks in a shrilly tone. The one girls are apt to use when they like you.
“Baaabe, mbona unatoka mapema hivi?”
Dr. Mbuthia tells her that he is on call today.
“Lakini babe, kwani hakuna daktari mwingine?”
Her complaints are halfhearted. Her use of his title deliberate. A not so subtle reminder to the other ladies that of all the women in the world, Daktari chooses to be with her. They hate her for it.
They get to the bottom of the stairs. His left hand around her waist. Wairimu has her hands around him. He loves it when she does that. He pulls her close and whispers something in her ear. She laughs. He is really funny even when he is not trying to get into her pants.
“You have to come see me tonight.” She tells him
“Why?” He asks.
She’s going to wear that dress he likes. The one that has a slit running from the floor to just below it.
“Hakuna kujaribu babe, you have to come!”
He nods. He meant to go see his family tonight. But it’s a difficult decision choosing between family and a slit running from the floor to just underneath…it.
Kimani all this time is surveying the area while looking at his watch. They have to go. Kimani is Daktari’s driver and also his security. The only man Dr. Mbuthia trusts to bring to his escapades in the wrong side of Nairobi. He is the one who picks the call from the hospital when they need Daktari to go back. He also has the privilege of coming upstairs and knocking on the door where Daktari is making love to Wairimu. A thankless job. But someone has to do it.
Wairimu kisses him, on the neck and he recoils. He is very sensitive there. Now it’s her turn to smile, she doesn’t understand how a man can be so sensitive.
Some 10 meters away from them, Ondieki turns in his tarmacked bed, belches and lets out the loudest fart. The ladies blush. Kimani looks at him, judges he is not a threat. Ondieki wakes up, lifts his head off the ground and sees Wairimu with someone else. He starts to speak “Weweeee, weeeeewe!” Then, he vomits! The women watch him but none attempt to help him. They all know smelling like vomit and urine is bad for business. Dr. Mbuthia wonders if he should help. He thinks better of it. This is probably just a drunk who ate too much and mixed his alcohol.
He turn to Wairimu kisses her forehead and off he goes with Kimani. Wairimu doesn’t ask him for money, they are beyond that now. He will send it later. Their way of sprinkling dignity into the most undignified of loves.
Kimani leads the way. Trying to push his employer to walk faster. Daktari is forced to run to keep up with Kimani. Old age is quickly catching up, he gets tired long before they get anywhere near Archives. He resorts to walking fast, Kimani thankfully lets up the pace, allowing him to catch up. Mbuthia hates not being able to bring his car here. But he understands Kimani’s argument. There is no acceptable reason for a respected doctor’s car to be parked outside a brothel on River Road on a Wednesday night.
They cross Moi Avenue and are at Kencom, they get onto the Upper Hill bound buses.
“Tushukishe hapo Kenyatta hospital tafadhali.” Daktari orders.
He takes a window seat and Kimani seats next to him.
The bus leaves Kencom, sailing past Kenyatta Avenue with ease. Nairobi is beautiful at night. Daktari starts to doze off, a result of working days without sleep, old age and Wairimu’s thighs. The driver changes gears as they get to Valley road. You can feel the bus growling differently as it climbs the hill. Daktari now has completely dozed off. It is the one thing Kimani admires about him. His ability to sleep anywhere. As they make the turn, into Upper Hill road. An ambulance screeches past them, all lights and sirens. Kimani wonders which unlucky bastard it is headed to. He hopes it is one of our politicians. Daktari snores heavily, his head secured safely on Kimani’s shoulder. Kimani can see the hospital’s main gate now. He asks the conductor to stop the vehicle. Kimani tries to wake up Daktari. He hates being woken up. The bus pulls to a stop, with a still asleep doctor. Kimani shakes him harder. He wakes up. They alight. They cross the street and head to the hospital’s Emergency room.
A young woman was brought in with an inflamed appendix. The junior resident on duty assessed it to be a severe case needing immediate surgical intervention. Hence the need for a surgeon in the person of Dr. Mbuthia. Daktari gets into the room and asks for the report. He scans quickly through it. Nothing particularly remarkable in there. Still groggy he asks;
“Mgonjwa ako wapi?”
The junior resident leads him to where the woman is lying. Daktari assesses her. He lifts up the shirt and asks her to point out which area is experiencing pain? She points to the stomach. The doctor puts on his gloves and places a hand on the stomach, gently pressing it. There is no reaction from the man. He shifts his hand onto the area where the appendix usually is. He presses. There is no reaction. He gets a small flashlight, asks the woman to open her eyes wide. He points it into them.
“What did you eat last night?”
The woman describes the food in detail.
“Did you drink alcohol?
She shakes her head.
“Did you eat anything else?”
She ate some weed cookies. Swears it is her first time.
This is why Dr. Mbuthia hates being on call. He never gets the good cases. It is always the junior residents calling him to drain an abscess or put someone’s shoulder back into its socket and now a hallucinating woman. Something a second-year medical student could deduce. He wonders what is happening to the quality of medical education in this country.
He removes his gloves, calls his resident aside and asks him why he did not think to order a blood test which would have shown the presence of bhang. The resident attempts to explain and is quickly cut off.
“Please use your brain kijana, the title Dr. is not a license to be foolish. Sawa?”
He dismisses the resident. Asking him not to call him again unless someone is dying or Jesus himself has come for us. The resident skulks away to lick his wounds.
Daktari retreats into the on-call rooms. He needs to catch a few hours of rest before his shift begins. The room is sparely furnished. A bunk bed, a table, and hospital beddings. He jumps into the lower bed with all his clothes. He is too tired to remove them. He wonders how many doctors have had each other here. On this same mattress. Probably all of them. He lies on the bed and remembers the one good case he had. He was on-call in his first year as an attending surgeon. A patient was brought in complaining of persistent fatigue, belly pain and was vomiting at least once an hour. His fever was skyrocketing at 34 degrees. His eyes had a dark yellow hue in them. He had avoided coming to the hospital until he had no other choice. His wife had to practically carry him to the emergency room. The man insisted on being assessed in private without his wife present. Nothing too unusual, men hardly enjoy being powerless in front of their wives. However, the man was too insistent.
Daktari had to pull the story from him. He had met with a former classmate of his from the university days. One thing led to another. They had the best sex. Yes, they forgot about condoms, but the sex was worth it. Plus, it was supposed to be a one-time thing. But how do you stay away from someone who makes you feel alive? More alive than you have been for decades, even if that stolen moment lasts for exactly 17 seconds.
Dr. Mbuthia remembers the way he had to handle the case sensitively. The wife demanded access to all the medical records. The man forbade him from sharing them. Mbuthia was caught in the middle of spectacular family drama. Plus, he had to ask the patient to ask his lover to come see him. They both had Hepatitis B. The lady in question being a carrier, and the gentleman having the poor luck of suffering from it. The wife finally found out and caused a ruckus in the hospital. Mbuthia was unfortunately not around to see it
He is starting to slip off into the abyss, his eyes are getting droopy. Sleep welcoming him back.
The door is pushed in.
“Daktari, Daktari we need you there’s an emergency!”
Mbuthia cannot believe it. Did he not give clear instructions not to be woken up for trivialities?
“Daktari, twende this is serious!”
The resident is sufficiently alarmed that Mbuthia decides to take it seriously. He gets off the bed and they rush to the emergency room. There’s a patient lying on a stretcher being tended to by every medical professional in the room. Mbuthia wonders when this hospital became a circus. The patient vomits, blood splatters out of his nostrils. Mbuthia takes control. He orders everyone who is non-essential to step away. He asks a nurse to set up an IV line. He orders the resident to prepare to take the patient for a CT scan. Mbuthia asks for the patient chart. The paramedic who brought the patient in hands it over.
Patient name: Unknown
Pickup Location: River Road
Patient condition: Patient vomiting constantly every 30 minutes, blood appeared while on transit to hospital
Treatment notes: Attempted to hydrate patient orally using Oral rehydration salts and water. Unsuccessful
The paramedic explains that they were called to pick up a sick man lying on the road. They were not able to find out anything about him. Dr. Mbuthia approaches the heavily breathing patient. The smell of hot ammonia and cheap vodka hits him. The patient looks familiar. Dr. Mbuthia turns the patient towards him. The patient sees him too and speaks in a weak voice.
“Wewe, wewe hautaniibia bibi yangu Wairimu.”
Piece originally submitted as part of the Bliss-Amka Forum Competition.
How are you doing? Are you safe, are you being loved, do they feel like home when you are cuddled up next to them? I hope so. Meanwhile, I wrote a book. Rather, I was part of a collective that wrote a book. It’s called, “When a stranger called and other short stories.”