All the World’s a Stage
My sister Wanjiru was sick all night. She writhed and moaned in her bed, the sound of her pain bringing tears to my eyes. At first light, we started treking towards Nyeri Town hoping to hail a ride along the way. It was very cold and Wanjiru was weak. She leaned heavily on my support and it was exhausting. Often we stopped so she could catch her breathe, before proceeding.
"My stomach hurts," she cried and clutched her belly.
"It’s because you worry too much," I said, trying to be strong for her. "Worry causes acid accumulation in the belly. You are too young to worry. Wait until you get kids."
She managed a sad smile. "I think it’s more than acid Wangechi."
I was seven months pregnant on a home stretch to delivering my baby. My swollen belly and an expanding uterus had rearranged my organs and were adding more strain to my body. I tried to hide my fatigue from my sick sister but eventually we both collapsed on the side of the road and succumbed to exhaustion.
"Are we going to the Sisters' hospital?" Wanjiru asked between gasps. The grass was wet with dew, and soaked our clothes.
"Yes," I said, breathing hard. "It’s the nearest hospital."
She must have seen something on my face. I saw her sit up straight then pause. I felt the question coming.
"What happened to your dream of being a Sister Wangechi?"
"Martin happened," I said. “Men.”
Our eyes met briefly and we burst out laughing. It felt good and pumped new life in us.
"I always wanted to be a Sister," I said on a serious note. "Ever since I met Sister Elizabeth in the conventry, I dreamt of being like her - a Sister who could swing a rifle, kill a lion and pray all day. She was beautiful."
"Is it possible to become one after having a baby?"
"I don't know Wanjiru. That is something I would like to know."
She seemed to be in deep thought and so I waited. Her frown uncreased and her eyes slowly lit up.
“Wangechi,” she said. “I want you and Martin to be happy if that’s even possible. I would like to see you in your home with a husband and child, you know, like a regular family. I know that’s what you want and … you shouldn’t give up on that. But… but also, if there’s a part of you that still wants to be a Sister, then that’s something you should think about. Your faith in God is very strong.”
“Thanks Wanjiru,” I said smiling, although I felt more confused by her conflicting advice. I couldn’t be a wife and a Sister at the same time. Something had to give.
An old truck suddenly came around a bend and stopped next to us. I could tell the tires were uneven and the body was rusted and in need of a good paint job. A young man with a youthful beard rolled down the driver’s window and popped his head out. "Are you ladies going to town? Are you having a baby?"
I smiled and saw myself in his eyes; fat and pregnant. "No, but my sister is very sick."
"I'm going to town," the young man said. "I can drop you off at the hospital." He put the car on park, and jumped out to help us in.
We got in the back seat of the truck and thanked him many times; the kindness of a stranger lighting up our lives. The villages in the mountains were close to each other and we were like one community. It was expected of him to stop and enquire of us, otherwise his truck would be marked and people would say bad things about him. It would embarrass his family and that was a shame no man wanted to bring home.
The Consolata Sisters had established a hospital in Mathari which was fifteen miles from our village. The hospital had started as a faith based dispensary in 1938 and grown into a government backed facility. The truck dropped us at the gate and we thanked the young man many times. "Go with Ngai’s blessings," we told him.
Our happy faces and gratitude made him happier than any money could in the world. He left, a rich man.
The hospital sat in the shade of trees, buried under a cloud of mist. We walked into the reception area, our legs and feet covered in red dirt.
"How can I help you?" A lady asked from behind a desk. She wore white uniform and looked very tired from working long hours.
"My sister is very sick," I said. "I think she has ulcers."
"Fill these forms." She pushed a clipboard across the table without making eye contact with us. The pen was attacked to a plastic flower to prevent people from stealing it. I filled the forms and the whole time Wanjiru moaned and groaned beside me. Sometimes she rubbed her belly hard and other times she stared at the ceiling while the pain passed. Five white Sisters in blue uniforms walked by and nodded at us. They looked to be in their mid thirties and reminded me of my days at the convent. I remembered Sister Catherine and the mean Sister Margaret. I always wondered what happened to them, or whether they remembered me.
I gave the clipboard back and drummed my fingers on my thighs.
"How much money do you have for treatment?" The receptionist asked.
This question took me by surprise and made me fidget with my handbag. I had expected her to talk about treatment and what they would do for my sister. But the hospital wanted money first and talk later. I pulled out all the money that was in my bag and set it on the table. I did not have a bank account and this was everything I had saved and still needed for survival to the next payday.
The receptionist frowned as she counted the money. "This can only buy you painkillers," she said, finally making eye contact and studying me with renewed interest.
I opened my mouth then closed it. I opened it again. "Please," I said softly. "The painkillers only work for so long. My sister needs medical attention."
"I'm sorry," the lady mumbled. “We are understaffed and overbooked anyway. There are patients sleeping on the floor and others sharing a bed. There is nothing I can do for your sister without a deposit.” She suddenly walked away from the reception area and disappeared through a door. I dropped my eyes and felt like crying. I had let Wanjiru down again.
Footsteps. I looked up and saw the lady approaching with a glass of water. She smiled and it took the fatigue off her face. I felt optimistic.
"This medicine will last you three days," the lady said in a soft voice. "This should give you enough time to find money for treatment."
I wanted to be angry but also knew she was bound by her job. She was trying. All the world's a stage, William Shakespeare said, and all the men and women merely players, they have their exits and entrances. The receptionist saw people like us every day; natives without money seeking treatment. The faces were different, but the story of poverty was the same. Most of the natives lived on their families' two to five acres of land, but land was all they had. Land was what clothed, educated and fed them. Land did not provide other worldly luxuries like cars and jewelry, or provide for expensive hospital bills.
Outside, we sat on the benches in a well maintained yard and waited for the medicine to kick in. The grass was very green here and mowed low. The flowers brightened the yard and brought serenity to those walking by or sitting on the benches. Soon Wanjiru stopped writhing and sat calm beside me. I smiled at her and she smiled back. "I don't want you to worry little sister. God has a plan for you. You will get better and it will happen the way God has planned it to."
Wanjiru placed her head on my right shoulder and sighed. The hands of the green sweater she wore were pulled out to cover her fingers. "Tell me their story," she said, pointing at two sisters walking across the lawn. "Make me see through your eyes."
I smiled at her words and my mind drifted back to a time in the conventry when I was young. Tetu Mission Convent - there had been magic there; a kind of magic that only God could conjure.
“You see the young one?” I said. “She is new and her name is Sister Shelby. The older one is Sister Margo. Sister Shelby is ready to serve God fully but she is still not sure of what to expect. I think she is afraid.”
“Why is she afraid?” Wanjiru asked. It was all a game but she sounded taken by the story.
“She is conflicted because of the world she left behind: a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, and maybe a boyfriend.”
“She wants to serve God but she wonders why she can’t have it all.”
Wanjiru and I watched the two Sisters walk away and disappear into a building. I tried to picture myself in their shoes and wondered how that would feel like; to do nothing but dedicate ones life to serving God.
"Do you miss it?" Wanjiru asked. “Living in the convent?”
"Yes I do. The houses the Sisters slept in were made of wood. The church was small but full of love and God's presence. We woke up every morning at 6am and prayed for the world. Breakfast was followed by chores including washing dishes and scrabbing the floor. Everything that happened in the mission including chores and meals were an opportunity to serve God. We thanked God for every breath of air we took, and prayed for one more."
"Wow," Wanjiru exclaimed. "Sounds intense. No wonder you are always quoting scripture and calling on God's name."
"We ate and slept God. Sometimes after dinner, the Sisters loved to sit on the porch and listen to BBC News while watching the African sun setting. They kept up with what was happening around the world but their first allegiance was to serve God in any way."
"Sounds like a sacrifice."
"It is. Being a Christian is. It's not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s going out into the world and getting tempted. Its coming back home amongst other Christians and getting rejuvenated in God's presence."
"I think you are a good Christian," Wanjiru said.
"You refused to go to school so I could."
"You are my sister, and I love you. And don’t you worry about anything. I will find the money, and you will get the medical treatment you need."
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...