By Mercy Adhiambo (Kenya)
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The shrieking of my cell phone stirred me from sleep. I sighed. The ringing persisted. I stared wide-eyed into the blackness of my bedroom hoping that the ringing would stop. It did not.
I rubbed my fingers into my hair and clicked loudly. I was too tired. My day at work had been too hectic and all I wanted after that was sleep-good sleep, and not somebody calling me at night!
I groped for my phone but I missed it and I landed heavily on the floor. I bit my lips so hard to stop the swear word that I was almost shouting.
Before I could answer the phone, the ringing stopped. I switched on my bedside light and strained my eyes to check the time. It was seventeen minutes past midnight. I threw myself on the bed and placed a pillow on my head. I was too exhausted.
I had hardly slept for two minutes when the phone rang again. I clicked loudly and reached for the phone.
“Hallo!” I said in a low tone. There was silence. No reply.
I rolled my eyes. Surely, was someone calling just to disturb my sleep?
“Who is there?” I tried again, this time increasing my volume.
I was surprised to hear loud groans and pants from the other end of the line; then the line went dead.
The number displayed on the screen was unknown to me. I tried getting back to the caller but my call went unanswered. A feeling of panic awashed me.
I went back to bed. Lying on my back, I stared absent mindedly at the ceiling board. I could not find sleep-not with this strange call on my mind.
Something was definitely amiss. My mind wandered to all the possible places where the call could have come from, but I could not quite figure out who was calling.
The phone rang again, interrupting my thoughts.
“Who is speaking?” I asked, trying to hide the anxiety in my voice.
“Doctor, hurry up and come-please…” came the voice from the other end of the line.
“Who are you, and where are you?” I asked perplexed.
I got no reply. The line went dead-again! I was confused. I tried to place the voice, but I couldn’t. It was a female voice, but who?
I made a phone call to the hospital which I worked for to inquire if a patient asking for me had checked in, but I was informed that none had.
I informed them that should anybody asking for me arrive, I should be informed without delay.
Barefoot, I paced up and down, trying to collect my shaking self. So many thoughts crossed my mind. Maybe it was someone who had been involved in a road accident, maybe a patient calling from home, or maybe a female stalker. The last one made me smile, but it was possible, you never know these days!
My phone started ringing again.
“Hallo!” I said.
“Pete, come and help me. Come now,” she said, then hanged up.
It came to me in one flashing insight. I recognized the voice immediately. It was her…Brenda! Yes, Brenda calling me.
“But that is impossible,” I muttered to myself.
My head began to spin. I had a strange feeling. The kind of feeling you get when you have been running around in circles for a long time.
I parted the curtains and peered outside. It was raining heavily. I rested my head on the wall and felt tears stinging my eyes. Memories flooded back, and I could not hold them back, and neither could I hold back my tears. I remembered clearly…
Brenda was the girl I had always wanted to marry. All the marriage plans were ready and what was remaining was the payment of dowry.
All of a sudden, as if overnight, our country was rocked by war. Fear and uncertainty loomed in the air and insecurity stemmed into our once peaceful land. All we could do was to wait for the fighting to subside.
Walking on the streets became a nightmare. Skulls and skeletons lay sprawled all over. Days went by, turned into months and finally years, yet the war did not stop.
Songs were composed about Rwanda my country. Peacekeepers tried their best and we kept on hoping.
Brenda was staying in a neighbouring village, so I could not meet her. I longed to see her but the sounds of gunshots and cries of dying people prevented me from going past my doorstep. The air smelled of blood and death.
Gradually, the war faded, but the aftermath was devastating. Villages had been ruined and there remained only a shadow of what had been our country.
I wasted no time. I went to seek Brenda.
Their once beautiful house had been reduced to ashes. I looked for her all over. I really did; but I couldn’t find her.
I was overcome by a sudden inhuman weariness and loss of interest in life. A part of me was surely gone.
It was with great difficulty that I picked myself from the pain of losing Brenda and buried myself in books there on.
I was awarded a scholarship to study medicine in Canada and eight years later I returned to Africa and was employed as a doctor in one of the hospitals in Kenya.
I dedicated myself to my work. I had lost my family members in the war, and I had lost Brenda too. I worked knowing that they are dead...gone!
Now, here she was, calling me in the middle of the night, asking for my help. I pulled my raincoat from the hanger and slipped it over my shoulders.
I had to go. I had to. I hurried to the car park and drove on, not knowing where I was going. Lightning flashed and huge raindrops hit my windscreen with a vengeance.
The road was puddle with rainwater and the paddles glowed in the pale light from the street lamps. It was rather slippery and at one occasion, my car tilted sharply sideways, but I saved it on time.
I was about six kilometers from home when I saw a figure lurking ahead of me. The street was abandoned ad she was the only one in sight. I slowed down.
The figure continued to move. I pulled the brakes then stepped out of the car. I recognized her immediately.
For a timeless moment, we stared at each other, not uttering a word.
“Brenda,” I finally whispered.
“Pete,” she answered.
My gaze remained on her. She was still the same pretty girl I had first known when we were attending primary school in Rwanda , but something about her had changed. I could not actually put a finger to it.
“Pete, they took me, those soldiers. They killed my parents…” she said as sobs rocked her body.
I reached for her and embraced her. My heart was ablaze. My long held feelings were breached and my pent up emotions of years were released. I cried.
Then I noticed it. The bulge in her stomach. My Brenda was pregnant!
“You have to help me. I am due. I do not have an identity card in Kenya, I am a refugee. The hospital will not help me,” she said.
Her face was ashen and her clothes were soaked by the rain.
“Everything is in my small bag,” she said breathlessly, handing it to me.
Her legs gave way and she fell to her knees. Her breathing was heavy and she groaned in pain.
I was confused. It was not what I had expected.
I sprang into action.
“Push,” I screamed as I helped her deliver. She was sweating and it was obvious that she was in pain.
She gave one mighty push, and I held a baby girl-so tiny, so cute.
“Name her Bahati. Thank you, Peter.” She whispered.
My eyes searched the baby’s face. She resembled her mother.
“Let us go to hospital,” I said to Brenda.
I got no reply.
“Brenda, be strong,” I urged.
I held her hands. They were cold. She was dead.
“Brenda!” I yelled. Nothing. My voice echoed in the silent night.
The baby let out a loud yell.
“Bahati,” I whispered, stroking the baby’s face.
My tears flowed. They were not the first tears I was shedding for Brenda, but they were the first I was shedding for myself, and for Bahati.
I held the baby closer to me, and the rain came down in torrents, on us...Brenda, Bahati and I.