4 Aug 2011

Some minutes to 3am...

...is the time. It has been on of those days that your body questions your intentions towards its well-being and your brain goes along with you just because it has limited options. And as they both slowly start to shut down, you fight a battle that you eventually win, and somehow, you're still not happy with the outcome. You are driving around at 3am because you absolutely had to have that meeting that you have been putting off and now it doesn't matter what time of day it is, it had to be done.

You have not eaten, every fiber in your body is exhausted and sleep is playing peekaboo with your eyes. You just want to get home. You are Mbagathi Road, looking at the friend who agreed to drive with you this late because you were worried about being a lone woman driving around in the middle of the night, and you are feeling guilty that your meeting ran too late and now he is going to get only 4 hours of sleep because of you. You apologize for taking longer than promised, he mumbles a halfhearted 'ok' and you shrink deeper into your seat and hate yourself more. You understand how tired he is too.

Then you look up at the road ahead, and you see a man staggering in the middle of the road. You think, great, a stupid drunk who's probably get a run over and die tonight. You feel your heart shrink just a little bit, and shiver at the thought as two cars speed past you and swerve as they near him. They drive on, do not even slow down. As your headlights hit his face, you notice that he looks hurt. You gasp, and your humane side kicks in. Without thinking, you tell your friend to slow down. He looks at you, looks at the man and you can see that he thinks this is not a good idea. You know why. And your cautious side steps in. It could be a set up. He could be a decoy. Thugs could be laying in wait for a stupid driver like you to stop and pounce. 'Are you sure?' your friend asks you. You can hear in his voice that he is not asking you, he is asking himself. ' By now we have driven past him. ' Turn around, Bry.' You tell him. You see his jaw clench. You know he wants to help, but he is being reasonable. He is assessing the situation, probably calculating the risks and planning on the escape if its  a set up. Mbagathi Rd is a one way road. He swings the car on to the next exit and drives back. He then turns the car back to the left side. " We should drive slowly, not completely stop. I'll talk to him, you look around.' You tell him. Your voice is shaking, you are shaking. You are scared shitless.

Bry slows down and you see him scanning all sides for suspicious activity. The guy is on your  side - the passenger side. He starts to walk towards the car. His face comes into focus. Your breath gets caught in your throat. You stifle a cough. He looks like a walking cadaver that's been sitting for days. His face is swollen, so much so, you cannot tell how he looks like normally. Where his left eye once sat is a thin slit. He looks like someone removed his skull and wrapped a basketball around his  facial skin. His mouth, which no longer like a human mouth, is bleeding profusely.

You look over at Bry. He is looking at the man too. You can read his mind. We have to help him. 'Where do we take him,' Bry asks. Without thinking, you say 'Masaba'. It's now  called Nairobi Women's Hospital at Adams. Now, you have a love-hate friendship history with that hospital. Every now and then, you are in so much pain you need to go to the ER for an IV drip of painkillers as the oral ones wont work and you need very high dosages. One of those times, your boyfriend took you there. You found a doctor who  thought that you writhing in pain, keeling over and almost sitting on the floor was not an emergency enough, you had to wait for him to check an athlete foot infection first and wait your turn. After all he was a foot doctor and he's all they had. Long story short, but you ended up driving to Nairobi Hospital 20 minutes later, you in more pain, boyfriend so angry than you have ever seen him, after giving the foot doctor and earful.

You have also brought another stranger here. He was beaten up as you watched. And as everyone ignored his cries and watched as he bled, you put him in your car and drove him to this hospital. They treated him, asked for no money after you explained that you are a stranger who wanted to help. That story is told here 

I digress.

Bry is driving like the wind, you am trying to get information from the man. He can barely talk. Of course. You pick up from his muffled speech that he is a traveling salesman who sells toothpaste. Ironic. I think he has lost all his teeth from the attack. Could have been funny in an alternate universe. He lives in a place called Mukuru kwa Mjenga. You know that slum, you have been there once. You cannot, however, figure out where he was attacked at. You want to know more, but you can tell that its taking all the strength he has left to speak. He says he was attacked between 7-8pm. It's 3 am. Where has he been. You tell Bry that you think he must have been unconscious and he just came to. The man is now thanking us. Telling us how no one would stop to help him, sending blessings our way.

The smell. You cannot quite place it. You think its the smell of death. Angry death. Angry that it has lost its prey. You and Bry speculate. There is definitely alcohol in the stench. Maybe a No.2. Both of you cannot put your finger on it. It's a haunting smell. You roll down the windows. But its too cold, especially for him. You have the sleeves of your sweater around your face and mouth. It kid of helps, but not really. Bry has to drive and focus on the road. He does not show if the stench is affecting him. You know it is. He is not even wrinkling his nose. He is looking ahead, stoically. But he is man, you understand.
You arrive at Nairobi Women's at Adams. You walk out with him as Bry parks the car. The reception is empty, save for the 4 night-guards huddled at the seats watching TV. The receptionist gets up and horror registers on her face. You are not sure if its the sight of the man or the huge drops of blood dripping on the pristine white floor tiles that has her in shock. You explain the much you got from the man to her. She calls a nurse who stands at a safe distance. You ask what the procedure is. They ask you if you are prepared to foot his bill. You have KES 3,500 in your wallet. You tell them you are willing to give them that. They tell you it might not be enough to do all the tests. The much they can do is give him first aid and release him. 'At this hour?' Bry asks. ' Well, we cannot admit him. Who is going to pay?'. Bry and you look at each other. You cannot possibly leave him here to get 'first aid' then be sent out in the cold, back to the cruel night all by himself.  You have to take him to a government hospital. You think of how ridiculous all this is. You wonder how much it would set the hospital back for treating this man. You look around at the sickeningly white floor tiles, and wonder if treating this man means that the hospital will have to replace those white tiles with an earthen floor, what with how poor they will be for attending to a patient who has no money. Maybe they have to give up the TV that 4 night guards are watching. Why are there 4 night guards anyway, when there are 4 more at the gate, you wonder. They give him  some gauze and he sticks it in his mouth.

You leave.

You arrive Kenyatta Hospital. It looks dead. You have no idea where casualty is. You walk around the corridors looking for any sign of life. You find a Pediatric Section. The nurses are dozing off. You ask for Casualty. They ask you how you got in. You say you drove to the parking. They tell you, well, that's where casualty is. You tell them you walked straight from the parking to them. They tell you to keep walking and turn right at the end of the corridor. You ask one of them to show you. He says' Just keep walking, turn right, keep walking, you will see it.' They are looking at the man like a leper. You wonder why they are not offering to put him on the wheelchair one of them is seated in and wheel him to casualty, instead of making him walk around. You decide its better to keep walking as you don't trust yourself not to say something you will regret.

Bry catches up with you. Yo give him the directions. You walk for a minute down the endless corridor. You feel like you are leading this man to slaughter. You fee like you work for some gulag. This man trusts you. He is following you unquestioningly. You know you are not going to get him the help he needs. Ye, you keep walking. Bry says he will run ahead to look for the casualty. He feels like we are walking in slow motion and its painful to watch the man trudge along, every step carefully calculated for minimum pain. Up ahead, Bry finds the casualty. You walk in. It looks, smells like abandonment. People on the floor, on unattended stretchers, on benches, heads bandaged, legs plastered, eyes sewn shut. If feels like you just walked into a morgue and the bodies suddenly got life. They stare, you stare back. You are the first to look away. You are ashamed, guilty even. For being healthy. You hear voices in your head ask you ' What have you done that is so good to give your the right to be walking around healthy? Are you so much better than them? To look at these people with pity. They do not need your pity.'

Bry finds someone and asks for the procedure. The man has to be registered. A bored looking woman tells you to wait for someone to register him. 10 minutes later, the same woman comes into the little cubicle and starts barking questions at the man. She is asking for his name. He can barely move his mouth now. Its slowly sealing itself shut. You remember he has a driving license and you give it to the lady. She ignores it, tells you to let him speak. His name is Johannes, you tell her.  She ignores you, continues to grill him. Short of telling him to spell it, she finally jots it down. 'what happened to you? Where were you coming from? Why were you walking around at 8pm?' On and on she goes. She is admonishing him. A grown man, in pain, who has just lost all the money he made that day, all his merchandise...being treated like a child. You can't take it anymore. You walk out of the room, the same time your tears finally flow. You can still hear her shouting at him. Sure, he smells of alcohol, but please, treat him first! You can't stop crying. Bry comes over and comforts you. 'Why does it have to be so?' You ask him. 'Because that is what life is' He says something to that effect.

The woman has finished barking. Gives Bry the form and tells him to take it 'over there' 'Over there', the bored looking man who has his faced wrapped up as if he is going for a ski trip takes the form. He looks it over and gives writes a number on it. 'Go pay over there' he points. The lady sends you back. 'That number has already been allocated. Tell him to give you another number.'  You tell him so. ' How come? That is not possible. How come?' Under your breath, you mutter. ' Magic?'  He writes down another number. You go back to the cashier. You pay. KES 250. That's all it takes here.  We take back the form to the ski-trip guy. By now, you wonder if patients have to do this back and forth trip before they can finally get treatment. By the time he is done registering himself, both his eyes and mouth would have long shut,' you think.

The ski guy asks us to spell the guys name. Bry hands him the driving license. He asks us questions about the man. We answer as much as we can. Then he asks for Bry's name. He gives it. His mobile phone number? You interject. 'What for?' 'I am not talking to you', Ski guy says. You are tired, your patience, the little you possess has run out. You are running on autopilot. And the autopilot is not programmed for niceties.  So Bry repeats the question. Ski guy says just in case of anything. You say we do not want to be contacted. He says you are responsible for him because you brought him there. You say you are not going to give your contacts. You do not want to take any responsibility. He gets cross. You say, you have done your duty, you brought him to hospital, you have been trying to get him treated for 3 hours and now you are going home. Bry hesitates. You grab his hand and pull him out of the hospital. This is too much, you tell him. Ski guy gets up and follows you. You joke about him calling the nightguards to restrain you. For what? For helping a stranger. You walk to the car. No one stops you. Bry says he is disappointed that no one stoped you. He really wanted that confrontation. He wanted an outlet.

You recline the seat, lean back and close your eyes. You want to stop feeling guilty for relaxing and knowing that you will soon be in your bed. You want to feel the pain the man is feeling. You want to experience the feeling of inadequacy that you saw in him when he had to beg for help.

You really want to.

It's 5 am. Life has to go on.