(Continued from Cornered I)
They drive in silence for a while. Idris does not know what to say to her. All the things that are coming to his mind sound hollow. What she is saying is actually true. Her life must be difficult, having to deal with the pain and the multiple blood transfusions.
“Have you had lunch?” he asks her as they approach the Khoja roundabout.
“No, but I am not hungry.”
“Please have lunch with me.”
Peninah smiles; she can read through his mind.
“You want me to stay close to you so that I don’t kill myself, is that right?”
“I am not looking forward to attending your funeral.”
“Sooner or later you will have to. This sickle cell will kill me eventually.”
“I could avoid that by dying first.”
“So now you want to kill yourself too?” she asks and they both laugh.
Peninah relaxes a little. Idris drives through Tom Mboya Street, cuts through Moi Avenue and joins Kimathi Street. He parks outside Java House Kimathi Street.
“So do you want junk or should we find a proper restaurant and eat a proper meal?”
“Now that we are here, junk will do just fine.”
They climb up the steps to Java and find space outside on the balcony. A friendly waiter shows up and takes their orders.
“Tell me Peninah, how can you be so happy yet you are constantly sick?”
“Happy? I have just been having a suicidal episode less than an hour ago.”
“We both know why that happened. That dean is an agent of the devil.”
“He was just doing his job I guess.”
“Being mean is not part of anybody’s job description. So anyway, how do you stay positive? Before today, I have always found you to be a very jovial girl. I actually had trouble believing that you have sickle cell.”
“Everyone has problems Idris; but we all have things to be grateful for. We just have to focus on the positive side of things.”
“But still…being sick often must be something else. That cannot be funny.”
Their meals have arrived. Peninah is having chips and chicken wings while Idris has settled for a hamburger with espresso coffee. Peninah knows that neither of them will get satisfied, and she cannot help thinking that the cost of her meal alone would have been more than enough to get them a full meal at Pal’s or Lazaru’s. But she keeps the thought to herself. After all, she is not the one footing the bill; and he did ask her whether she wanted to come here or whether she wanted to go to the restaurants that offer a wider variety of meals. She chose to come here because she thought that that is what he wanted.
“Being sick is depressing; that part is true. But like I said, I have many things to be grateful to God for.”
There is a brief period of silence. Peninah seems to be lost in thought, and Idris decides to give her space. He tries to imagine what it would feel like to be constantly unwell. He shivers at the thought of his last visit to the hospital, when malaria had threatened to get the better of him.
“Look Idris. It is not like I am a bag of helpless bones that need sympathy, although I will readily admit that Professor Igweta’s words hurt me to the core. But the truth is that I have a lot of good things going on for me. For instance, although I occasionally suffer from painful episodes, the pain is manageable with drugs; my parents, though not rich, have always showered me with love .I have supportive siblings.
My education has been a miracle. When I was in class four, I won a certain essay competition that was conducted among the commonwealth countries. I was the best in my category, across the commonwealth world. As a result, I got to meet the British Prime Minister during the award ceremony. The award was a scholarship that took me through primary and secondary school.
Around that time, I also met the then British High Commissioner to Kenya, Jeremy Jones. After learning that I was suffering from sickle cell, he offered to pay health insurance for my family. He and his wife Cynthia faithfully pay the premiums every year to this day, and that is how I am able to afford my medication. When my scholarship ran out after form four, the Jones took up my education. They paid for my Bachelor’s degree, and they also paid for my Kenya School of Law diploma. Because they know I want to teach, they advised me to come and do my masters full time. My plan was to do a Ph.D and become a law professor. But after today, I am not sure whether I am cut out for this. If Masters is giving me so much trouble, I don’t know whether I have what it takes to complete a Ph.D.”
“Of course you do.”
“I am not sure. Doing a Ph.D is a grueling exercise even for healthy people. What about me? I will probably complete it after fifteen years. And I hate to have incomplete projects hanging over my head. But like I said, I have a lot to be grateful for.”
“I am glad to hear you make that last statement. You scared me with those things you were saying as we left the campus.”
“I was upset. I guess I needed someone to talk to. So thank you for lending me your ear, and thank you for lunch.”
“Don’t mention it. I will always be here if you need me.”
In the silence that follows, Idris thinks about his own life. He suddenly feels embarrassed. He has been living a life of discontent in recent days. And this has primarily been because he has been comparing himself with others who he thinks are doing better than himself. But like Peninah, he has many things to be grateful for; far too many, in fact.
“I needed this as well, I guess. Our conversation has clarified many things in my life. I think I have been fretting too much.”
“I know you are Muslim, but would you by any chance know what Psalm 23 says? Come on, even if it is the Koran version.”
Idris laughs softly.
“What makes you think I am Muslim?”
“Aren’t you the Muslim advocate?”
“Yes, I guess you could say that.” He gulps the last of his coffee before continuing. “I have always been passionate about human rights. When I was an undergraduate at Parklands, I was very active on social issues. So when I completed my studies, before I even graduated, I was hired by an NGO called Sisi Ni Raia Pia Initiative (SNRPI). It is a small NGO that champions the rights of the Muslim community in Kenya. By nature, I don’t do things half-heartedly, so I went all out. At 24, I was young, energetic and with lots of fire in my belly. So I made my presence felt. That was the time when terrorists had almost overrun the country, and the government was handling Muslims and especially Somalis with a heavy hand.
I led many street protests in Mombasa and Nairobi to fight for the rights of Muslims in general and Somalis in particular. Whenever a Muslim cleric was shot, I would marshal young people to hit the streets in protest. If I felt the Muslim or Somali community was being unfairly treated, I would organize protests. Soon, I was getting numerous invitations to TV stations for interviews on the rights of Muslims. I was arrested multiple times, but that only worked to raise my profile. That is how the title “Muslim Advocate” came about. But I am not Muslim, neither am I Somali. But I guess I look the part because I am Cushitic; I am from the Borana tribe. My father is Borana and my mother is Rendille. I was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church, but I switched to Parklands Baptist Church when I was an undergraduate.”
Peninah stops midsentence and clutches at her throat.
“Penn, are you okay?”
She starts to slump forward and Idris realizes that she is losing consciousness. He stands up quickly and grabs her before she falls. He takes her in his arms and runs for the stairs but a waiter accosts him.
“Sir you have not cleared the bill.”
“I will clear it later. I need to rush my friend to hospital. As you can see…”
“It is okay sir, do what you have to do. I will settle the bill,” a middle aged white woman shouts from across the room. She is sitting with a white man, who Idris presumes is her husband. “I pray that your friend gets well soon.”
Idris thanks her and runs down the stairs, taking two at a time. He is pleased to see that there is no traffic on Kimathi Street. But where should he take her? He could take her to M.P Shah or Aga Khan in Parklands, or he could take her to Nairobi Hospital. He decides to go to Nairobi Hospital.
As he opens the back door of the car, he realizes he has a challenge. How will hold her steady while driving?
“Here, let me help you,” someone says from behind him. He turns behind to see the white man who had been sitting next to the woman who offered to pay his bill a few minutes ago. The man hops into the back seat and supports Peninah, while Idris gets behind the steering wheel. Idris navigates his way out of Kimathi Street onto Kenyatta Avenue. But just before he gets to GPO, traffic grounds to a halt. The lunchtime rush is building up.
Image by Adeboro Odunlami from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/young-nigerian-man-nigeria-africa-3834272/
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