Run, Run, Run.

 

She sat by the corner table, watching the waiters serve the other patrons. It was a busy Cafe, very new but well hidden. This being happy hour many people walked in from work to have a few drinks and unwind before heading home.

She looked at her wrist watch. 5:30. She had two hours to go before her family would call to find out where she was. She had already decided on rice and beef for supper, and she knew Mary, her maid, had already prepped for her.

Across her seat was a fairly young couple who were giggling and holding hands as if there was no one else in that room apart from them. That used to be her, seven years ago. Before the responsibilities, before the expectations, before the kids.

She thought of her husband now. He was still handsome, still a kind soul and a wonderful dad, but things had changed between them. They were no longer the couple seated across her. Time to be that couple was no longer available. The little free time they had was spent talking about their investments, what their mothers wanted, what their children needed, planning family functions and prayers. The rest of the time was spent with the kids, entertaining and each of their respective hobbies.

They both saw it happening though, the drift. They tried for a month or two, but date nights were expensive. She didn’t know his dreams or his wants any more. And what he saw in her was a home maker. He forgot she loved going out too, that she loved picnics and road trips. She was sealed in a box that she could not get out of so she stopped fighting him. In his presence she was a home maker, with her friends she could be who she wanted to be.

With that kind of dynamic going on it was a welcome surprise when Anthony called. He had liked a photo of her on Facebook and he said she was radiating with happiness and looked beautiful. After being married for so long, being seen as beautiful was a huge deal. They started talking. He was happily married too but had just started undergoing the change that leads to her current stage in marriage. He was sad that he was only seen as a provider, that only his little girl was the only one who asked how his day was. His wife saw him and saw a chore helper who was too lazy or tired to help out.

They both had a change identity issue. They felt close. They kept reminiscing about their college days, how young and in love they were. They felt alive then, the only responsibility they had was grades and happiness.

For old time’s sake they agreed to meet today for drinks. To catch up, laugh and create an imaginary little world for an hour or two before going back to their real lives. It would make both of them happy. And if they were happy, their families would also be happy.

But some voice in her head kept asking her why she needed to justify meeting him if it was nothing but friendship. Why did she pick the corner table where people were less likely to see them?

The it hit her. She was looking for her husband in him. She was looking for the man who she used to laugh with, the man who once pulled her chair and whistled as she walked by. She was looking to be in love again and not merely love.

In her heart she realized this was wrong. She should get up, go home, talk to her husband and sort things out. After all, this date or meeting or whatever you want to call it, would lead to more pain than happiness.

She quickly put cash on the table and picked her bag and stood to leave.

As she turned around to leave she saw him walking towards her with a smile on his face.

shit. shit. shit.

“Hi,” he said as he opened his arms wide to embrace her.

“Hi,” she said back as she hugged him back.

Two hours, she said to herself. Just two hours and I’ll be gone.

 

Terrorist!

Three years. Three years he had waited for this moment, this exact time and opportunity to exact his revenge. And now, all he could think as he watched him fall to the ground, crying out in pain, was how weak he looked.

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For years he had imagine how  he would laugh, or walk away like those heroes in the movies, but now, in front of all these people, he appeared to be the bad guy.

Five years ago, he was seventeen years old. At seventeen, the United States had declared war on his country, meaning life for him had changed. Classes were two times a week, when the military had no patrols; it was after all, a nation under siege, and anyone who did not have a foreign accent was a suspect.

He remembered the day when the troops came to their town on a mission. Someone had tipped them that terrorist lived among them, hidden by the people. Their homes were vandalized, men beaten up, women raped, other killed…and this was all a matter of ‘national security’.

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No media houses reported this, it was not relevant to the american people. He was lucky to have lived. His mother hid him under the bed, and made him promise he would not come out.

His father was shot, trying to stop the guards from beating up his brother. His mother was raped, as he watched, and shot on the head, on her bedroom floor. They took the money from the safe, and beer from the fridge. They were laughing, taking tolls on how many ‘insurgents’ they had killed.

Insurgents. The word did not sound human. It detached his people from their people, so that when their news reported how many insurgents they had killed, their people would not cry foul. But it was a painful time for him, something he would never forget.

And that was why he did it. That was why he had fled from home to the capital. He had good grades and connection. He got a scholarship to study in the US, and during that time, he did not forget that man’s face. He looked for him, and for the past three years, had been studying him, patiently, waiting for the day he would avenge his family’s death.

He sat by the side of the road, beside the bleeding man. He still held the gun in his hand. He was tired.

He could see the look in his eye, he was wondering why he got shot. He could not recognize him, they had, after all, never met. And he, he felt no reason to explain to him. He did not deserve it.

A group of Americans watched him from a distance, fearing for their lives yet curious to see what was going on.

He heard a woman from the crowd shout at him in anger. “You terrorist! You’ll never win you know, you are just a few, but we are many! We’ll beat you in the end!”

He smiled and held his fore head.

Soon the cops and media would be here. And no one would ever understand what he did.

Religious groups would rise up to defend him, others would condemn him. People would call him bad, a murderer. But no one would ever know, nor understand the pain he had gone through.  No one would understand who he was, and neither did he care.

He had what he wanted, and now the cops, the government  the press and even his own people could do what they pleased with him, he did not care.

He had his pound of flesh, and he was prepared for the worst now.

Home.

The sitting room was exactly as he had left it. A huge cupboard to his left, hiding the utensils mother had bought from her chama, with the TV, of course, covered with a clothing covering it. He sighed. He had spent most of his childhood seated in front of that screen, watching Sonic and Rainbow stars; those were his favorite cartoons.

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In front of him was a table, with breakfast. A huge thermos, full of tea, Blue Band margarine and bread. It looked dim in the room, the windows had heavy curtains and blinds that made the room somewhat stuffy. He sipped on to his tea greedily, ignoring how hot it was, it had been two days since his last meal.

The maid sat on the dinning table, feeding the child. She was ten years now, he last saw her when she was four. He could tell she was nervous to see him, she was curious who he was and what he was doing in their home so early. He tried to smile and ease her, but it made it worse. She heard the girl asking the maid, asking who he was. And she, ordered the girl to quit being so nosy, to finish her breakfast quick if she wanted to go out and play.

Soon the neighbors started flowing in. Borrowing sugar, a religious book they had borrowed or they were just in the neighborhood. But he knew, they all knew that they wanted to see him. His mother, who was from taking a bath, accommodated the first five, but after that, chased them all away.

This was no market, she said. There was nothing to see, and if they expected a show, she would give them one, she barked. She went on about privacy and God knows what, when all the while he sat there, listening.

He had missed her. Three years had passed since her last visit. Maybe she thought he had died, or maybe he had forgotten her. Maybe, maybe she did not love him any more…

She locked the door as the sat on the couch beside him. It was nine in the morning and she was already tired.

She looked at her son. He had grown thin, weak. He was no longer the vibrant boy she knew. But yet, when he smiled at her, the gleam his eyes was the same, reminding her that a piece of him still existed, somewhere, in there…

“Have you eaten?” he nodded. “Are you full?” He shook his head.

She poured him another mug of tea and poured herself one. She then passed the bread towards his direction and beckoned him to eat. She assured him that he was safe, and that he could eat all he wanted.

She watched him as he ate. Her boy. She remembered how stubborn he was as a child, choosing his own path and preferring his own company to his siblings. He always had a vivid imagination, that grew wilder each passing day. Whenever they would go to the country side and sit by the fire at night, he would be the one entertaining everyone with his stories. They would become so vivid, so real and ghastly, his father had to make him stop.

He always spoke of ghosts, spirits, the other side, talking animals and signs…his grandmother thought he was special. That the ancestors had chosen him, to speak through him…that was until his father died.

When Richard passed on, her little boy became deluded. He would awake in the middle of the night, sweating, screaming. Screaming that his father wanted to take him to the other side and he did not want to go. Then grandma came to visit, and an owl perched itself outside his window. Grandma said the boy was a bad omen, that the spirits wanted him. She had a ritual performed to cleanse him, but the owl came each night. After a fortnight she left, and vowed never to visit so long as the boy lived there.

She remembered how she tried to save her little boy. She took him to the preacher, to cast out demons, but he stood there, confused. She tried therapy but nothing worked. His siblings no longer wanted to play with him, he got kicked out of school and was leading a lonely life.

Then the Missionary came. She suggested that the boy go to Mathare. It was a hospital, for the mentally ill. There was a doctor there who could help her boy. And so, in each bid to help her son, she packed a few belongings and told him they were going on a short trip into the city. He was happy to leave, to see a new world.

When they got to the hospital, sister Ann (as they called the nurses) was very warm and welcoming. All the patients looked happy, clean and healthy. And the doctor, he said her boy was undergoing trauma, he had after all, lost his father. He needed to stay with them for a few months. And since the fee was reasonable, and her boy would be healed, she saw no reason to refuse.

So she felt her son in the city, in the hands of strangers and hoped for a miracle. She visited him each month and he cried. Cried to go home with her, begged to leave. And each time she would say, “Not yet baby, the doctors are here to fix you.”

Two years passed and she quit visiting. He was not getting better, they said. He stuck to his own company, talking to himself, talking to his father. He said he saw things, they called it paranoia. She did not know who to believe, so she ignored them both. She forgot about her baby.

And now, here he was, a grown sickly man, but a boy in his mother’s eyes.

The news said that forty of them had escaped, that seventy of them attacked the guards and only forty escaped. And her boy was one of them. There was a search for them, and they knew, they knew he would come home. They had called her in advance to warn her.

“How is Sister Ann?” she asked trying to make conversation.

“She is okay mother, though Oti stabbed her in the eye with a fork. She only has one eye now.”

“Oh,” she said somewhat confused by the calmness in his voice. “And…do you still see them, son? Do you still see your father?”

“Every day, he keeps me company,” he said smiling. “We are friends now.”

A silence hovered between them He thought his mother thought he was mad. She let the guilt of abandoning her son sink in, thinking he hated her.

“Can we watch Sonic ma? I’ve missed watching cartoons. They don’t let us watch any there.”

“Honey, Sonic hasn’t been aired for a long time. But there’s cartoon network, your sister enjoys it a lot.”

She picked the remote and turned on the television. He sat there, dazed for an hour. He did not even notice her leave the room. For once, he felt young again. Normal. Like he was when a child. He did not want to leave home, ever again.

There was a knock on the door, a knock his mother rushed to, too fast. He knew something was wrong. Then he saw them. He saw Sister Ann and the ward attendants. They had come for him, and nobody would help him.

He screamed out for help, as they forced him to wear a straitjacket. Sister Ann laughed at him, telling him he could not escape any more, he was going home, where he belonged.

As they pushed him to the car, he called out for his mother, he wanted her to save him. But she stood there, looking at him, holding herself. Then he heard her say it, say the words that drove him mad; “Not yet baby, not until the doctors fix you.”

Those were the last words he ever heard her say.

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Fears.

Fear. A feeling aroused by impending danger, pain or distress. Fear reeks straight into the core, causing the heart beat faster, the mind, inevitably going numb, and distress…oh what a feeling, what a rush!

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Amy could feel it. She could feel the fear create horrible scenarios in her head, she could see herself doing things, caught up in things she never thought she could.

She felt terrible. Here she was, worrying about things that may never happen, drifting far in thought, instead of being here, where she was needed. Being here where her best friend needed her.

Julie lay on the couch, fast asleep, tired from the day’s events. She had just lost her husband of thirty seven years, and, for the past two weeks, had been planning his funeral with family and friends.

She lay there peacefully, at ease. Almost as if she had no worries nor care in the world. But the secrets…

Amy sighed. Now that he was dead, people felt no need to protect him any more, and the truth was finally out. The truth that hurt, and caused so much fear…

He had been a family man. Always there for his family, putting them first. He loved his wife, and their four daughters. And now, it came to be that he had another family. Another woman, who had a twenty six year old son.

Now this woman, who nobody knew, had surfaced, with a list of demands. Demanding to be involved in the funeral arrangements, demanding a seat with the family at the funeral, demanding to be recognized, heard and accepted. For she too was his woman, and had been for thirty years or so.

She said that Julie’s anger and rebuke in public was a sham, that she knew about her all along. A woman, after all, always knows when her man has another woman. And for those years, she had decided to live in denial, but she knew. And now, everyone would know. They would all know that she too had lost her love.

But Julie, amidst the tears, had denied knowing this woman. She admitted that, like most marriages, they had faced hard times, times where they hated each other, but they always solved things and came back to each other. Till death, they had said, and she had kept each vow, and all this while, she thought he had too.

So when the letter came in, accompanied by a photo of the boy, she was crushed. He looked so much like her husband, they could not dispute that. Julie was confused. She called her best friend, her husband’s best friend, his wife and her lawyer. She did not know what to do, nor what to say.

Tom, his best friend, swore that he had never said anything about this woman. He was a cornered man and nobody believed him. He was still protecting his friend, his dead friend.

The lawyer however admitted to knowing her. Not directly though. He had made made various payments to her, had commissioned her house, her house that Julie’s husband had built.

He assured Julie that the woman did not want any money from her. She had written to the lawyer as well, saying that he had created a trust for her earlier and needed nothing from them. All she requested was the right to mourn him like everyone else. And if she were denied that right, she would stop the funeral.

And thus, the lawyer advised the family to let her mourn with them.

Julie was drained, and was yet to tell her daughters. She did not want them to know. The last thing she wanted to do is taint her husband’s image to their children. Especially now that they had no chance to confront him.

It could wait till morning, Amy had assured her. She had urged her friend to rest, as she was drained.

Now Amy looked at her friend, feeling sorry for her, yet admiring her bravery. She could not see it now, but she was.

Had it been her in this situation, she would have shut off completely. But Julie, went ahead with the meetings, never spoke ill of her husband who had betrayed her. She still loved him. She always would.

Amy looked out, watching her husband walking towards the house.

She wondered what secrets he had from her, and it scared her. She was afraid of ending up like Julie.

So when he walked into the house and towards her, she embraced him, tightly. Never wanting to let go. For as long as she held on to him, she would never know.

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Alone.

She sat next to one of the large windows in the cafe looking out, watching people as they went about their routine life. She always played a character game, where she guessed one’s personality in accordance to their appearance. During the weekends it got a bit more tricky as people got more comfortable in their attire, making it difficult to assess who they were. But she liked the challenge more, it gave her something to think about.

Her waiter walked briskly towards her with a tray in one hand and a napkin on the other. He was swift, precise and good at what he did. It was a passion, and he enjoyed it. She smiled at him and thanked him as he placed her iced tea before her. Her meal would be brought in after a short while.

She felt good. It was headed to three o’clock and her day was  almost over. It was a relaxed day, she had gone to the spa, had her nails done, her hair done then she went shopping. She looked at the numerous bags on the chair beside hers and she smiled. She was living the life, she thought, an iron lady in her own accord.

She thought of him and smiled. Today marked five years together. There was something there, she knew it. He had been so kind and loving with her throughout the years, and she, well, she had been patient. And for her patience she got to go the spa and shop from time to time.

She stared at her phone again.Twenty three minutes had passed and still, he had not replied her message. He was busy most probably, work, after all was a priority for him.

She was interrupted from thought by a tall charismatic man who stood before her. He mumbled something about it being wrong for a beautiful woman such as herself having a meal alone…she sighed. He was handsome no doubt, but she was committed and did not want to start anything with anyone. She was in love.

She looked at her phone again and sighed. Nothing, not a word. She had made sure he knew that today was their anniversary, not that she expected dinner or to spend the day with him, things like those never happened to girls like her.

You see, her man belonged to someone else. He  had been married for seven years and had two children with his wife. She knew they lived together, she had even met the children from time to time. But she knew their marriage was fading. He said so, their mutual friends said so. So she had no reason to feel guilt. If it weren’t for the kids he would have left her already…

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Looking out the window she saw a couple holding hands and smiling at each other. They looked happy, complete even. Looking closer, she realized she knew them. It was her man with his wife.

In one hand she held flowers. Flowers that he had bought for her, on their fifth year anniversary.

He looked up and their eyes met. She felt betrayed, he looked afraid. Suddenly he whispered something to his wife and they walked  in the other direction, totally avoiding her.

She smiled, filled with anger and hurt. He would never love her wholly, she thought. She would always be second best, second best to a woman who did not care for him as she did.

She beckoned a waiter and asked for a glass of scotch. She, after all, needed to celebrate five years. Alone.

He gives and takes.

Lizzy drive slowly behind the Toyota in front of her. There were many cars around, and everyone had to drive slowly, it was after all, a District hospital.

She passed her hand through her purse to see if she had her wipes and hand wash, she had msyophobia and hospitals did little to comfort her. The smell of disinfectant filled the air, mixed with faint smells of urine, vomit and blood. The scent made her skin curl, but she had to be here, she needed to be here.

On her left was a couple walking home. It was evident that the lady had been discharged, they had a basin and a bag obviously full of her belongings. She looked sad, dazed, in her own world. Lizzy wondered what the woman had been through, she seemed crushed. As if on cue, the lady broke down to tears as the thoughts escaped Lizzy. She stopped walking and sat down all together. She was unable to hide the tears and her pain could be heard in her sobs, as if beckoning everyone to join her mood. The man quickly but gently moved to her side, squatting to hold her close. He was comforting her, and Lizzy could see, from the way the man moved his mouth, he was consoling a miscarriage, telling his wife, as she assumed, that all would be well, that they would get another baby soon and the pain would go away…

A hoot from the car behind her forced her back to reality, it reminded her that that one woman was one story out of many in this hospital. Some had happy endings while others were doomed from the very beginning.

She wondered what her story would be like today.

Her dear uncle had been ailing from something for a long while. She called it something as a joke, as most doctors were unable to diagnose what it was. The District hospital had been their last resort, and for the past four days, he had shown improvement. He was able to sit down now, feed himself, and even laugh again. She was grateful for each step he made towards recovery.

You see, Lizzy’s father passed away when she was six years old. He was a wealthy man and her mother, a spoilt woman who had never worked her entire life. She had been born in the era where women attained an education to attain the right man, not the right job or life by herself. So when the relatives tried to take the family wealth from her, she was hopeless and defenseless. Uncle Phil was the only one who defended them. He hired the lawyer and fed them when all accounts were frozen during the cases. He beat up his older brother who wanted to marry his dead brother’s wife in the name of culture. He educated her, put her in line when she wanted to quit school. He had become their father and protector out of love and kindness.

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And now, now Uncle Phil needed her. She had grown up independent and liberal, thanks to him. Because of him, she was a successful lawyer and business woman who now took care of her family. If it was not for him, she would have never worked so hard. So she owed him, she would be there for him, with him and beside him till he got better.

The Private wing always smelt better, their food was good and less crowded. Opening the door, she found her aunt sleeping on the chair beside her husband. She sighed, aunty needed to rest on a proper bed. This was her second night her. Today she had to go home, shower, eat home cooked food, sleep for  a few hours then get back.

As always, she was stubborn at first, but after assuring her that her husband would not be alone till she was back, she hurriedly grabbed her car keys and sped off.

Turning to look on the bed, she found her uncle smiling at her.

“You were always the strong willed one, the only child my wife could never say no to,” he said sitting up.

“I learned from the best,” she said smiling back. “How are we feeling today?”

“We,” he said holding her hand, “shall be ready to go home sooner than you expect.”

“I’m glad to hear that,”she said gently squeezing his hand.”I had missed seeing you like this.”

The next two hours flew by fast. They debated about politics, talked about the farm and what various relatives were up to. He seemed happy and rested, she was relieved.

He yawned and lied back.

“Lizzy,” he called.

“Yes uncle?”

“You have been a good girl and a strong woman…never let anyone change that, you hear me?”

“Uncle, stop talking like that, you’re scaring me,”she said.

He laughed. “You think I’m about to kick the bucket? At this state I cannot talk about serious things before someone cries!”

“Uncle I’m just worried…”

“There is nothing to worry about child. The Lord gives and the Lord takes, all we should do is appreciate the time he gives us. Now,” he said clearing his throat, “fetch me a glass of water, something nasty irritates my throat.”

She stood up and moved to the small table right in front of the bed. Her Uncle was special,she thought, he expected us all to have a brave face all this while. But he was right, though, she was grateful for this trying process, it reminded her how important he was despite all these years.

She turned round and moved closer to the bed to hand him the glass of water.

He looked so peaceful, lying on that bed with his eyes closed, like he was in a very deep sleep.

It had only been a minute, there was no way he would have slept so fast….oh no, oh no, no!

As the scream escaped her mouth she remembered that woman by the pavement, the pain in their voices could be heard. The pain was unbearable, indescribable, but so very real.