Lipa Kama Tender

He was shaking uncontrollably. Incessant spasms racked his body. Beads of sweat streamed down his face. He was curled up on the floor, writhing in agony. The bandage that straddled his wound was slowly falling off, revealing a steady trickle of blood. He was at a supposedly top hospital in Nairobi, but no one gave a damn.  People walked by him, none bothered to help. He closed his eyes and slowly felt his life ebbing away.

From the ruffled clothes and scruffy shoes, the doctor could make out the man’s status. He had seen his type numerous times. He clearly had no money and obviously had no health insurance. But duty dictates that he helps him, even though he was risking his life by just being there. If his colleagues knew he was working while they were on strike… he shuddered at what they may do. He was working incognito, no white coat, no stethoscope. The man on the floor would have to wait. He had many more critical cases.

The old man fidgeted in his seat. He was anxious. The ‘matatu’ was too slow. It was stopping at every stage. When it stopped again at Kibingoti he nearly screamed in frustration. He grit his teeth in an effort to contain his anger. His son was battling for his life. He was his only hope. His son had made the distress call late at night. This particular call was distressing. He had been lying on a floor for ten hours, the doctors strike had rendered medical services immobile. He had been forced to sell his only cow, ‘Nguno’ to be able to take him to a private hospital. Every second counted.

He was jerked awake by shrill screams. In a daze he tried to make out what had happened. He saw a man holding a small baby in his arms. The baby was lifeless. Two women were wailing uncontrollably. Tears flowed down the man’s face. His only son had just died. Perhaps he would be next. The screams became louder. For a moment his own pain was numbed. He touched his wound, the bleeding had stopped. There was a pool of blood beneath him. He felt weak. He felt dizzy. Slowly he drifted back to unconsciousness.

He was unmoved by the screams. It was part of the job. He had to focus on saving the remaining patients. But when he looked down the hall and saw it was a baby who had died, a lump caught in his throat. It was crushing when babies died. Life cruelly cut short. This was because the government was playing hard ball. Six years of medical school to work in these conditions seemed hardly ideal. At least he was helping, at the risk of his life. A commotion caught his attention. A group of his colleagues were coming down the hall, to ensure the strike was being upheld. His goose was cooked. Slowly he walked away but it was too late, he had been spotted.

Finally he had reached Nairobi. Thirty thousand shillings from the sale of his cow was in his jacket pocket. He was at ‘Tea Room’ and had to find his way to a bus that would take him to Ngong Road. He approached a smartly dressed man and asked for directions. He was very helpful. He offered to take him in person. All the stories he had heard about ‘Nairobians’ being rude and unkind were clearly unfounded. He was led into an alley which was supposed to be a shortcut. It happened in a flash. Two men appeared from nowhere and knocked him to the ground. His ‘guide’ led the onslaught. In less than ten seconds his money and phone had been taken. One shoe was lost in the melee and he trudged along the street dazed and confused. Everyone he turned to for help ignored him. His son would now surely die because of his failure.

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