Monday, 21 October 2013

The Man Who 'Preyed'

I wrote this story about a year ago - it is loosely based on a true story related to me by a close friend. I am now publishing it  today with her permission.


The grownups at the table were in deep conversation about things that *Toral didn’t understand. They had been sitting in the garden restaurant for hours and Toral was bored. She watched enviously as the other children chased each other and played in the grass. If only she wasn’t so shy, she would have been having as much fun as they seemed to be.

After what felt like an eternity, Toral’s mother turned to her and said they were leaving. Relieved and eager to get home and finish the Enid Blyton book she had been reading, Toral followed her parents to the car. As they pulled out onto the street, she looked out the window and began to daydream as her parents chatted away.

Toral’s attention snapped back to the conversation in the car as she realized her father had raised his voice and her mother had grown quiet. He was saying to her mother that she wasn’t supportive and that he was just doing what he needed to do for his family. Toral’s heart pounded as she watched the side of her mother’s face from the backseat, praying that she wouldn’t start to cry. Her father so often would speak to her mother so harshly that she would end up in tears, making Toral feel awful for her. She turned to look out of the window as Toral’s father continued to rant. Toral felt a lump in her throat and the tears welled up in her own eyes.

A few minutes later, Toral’s father steered the car into the parking lot of an unfamiliar compound and parked the car in front of an old building. They were evidently not going home just yet. Her mother turned around to look at her and said, ‘Daddy needs to see someone here. Then we’ll go home’. Toral reluctantly got out of the car and followed her parents into the stuffy building. As they walked up two flights of dimly lit stairs, she tugged on her mother’s skirt and asked, ‘Why are we here? I want to go home’. Toral’s mother looked down at her and sighed, but said nothing. Her father led them down a hallway and into a room that looked like a scantily furnished office. The paint on the walls was peeling and the room smelt musty. A greasy haired, dark skinned Indian man sat behind a desk at the far end of the room. He had a round red spot on his forehead. As he stood up to greet Toral’s father, she noticed that he was wearing what looked like an oversized dull brown shirt over a white sarong and sandals on his feet. He spoke rapidly to her father in an Indian dialect that Toral did not understand. He turned to Toral’s mother and said something to her to which she responded by nodding politely, although she did not smile. Then he turned to Toral and smiled, displaying a set of very yellow teeth with dark stains on them. Toral cowered behind her mother. She did not like the way this man looked at her with his dark, beady eyes. Toral’s father put his arm reassuringly around her shoulders and said, ‘He is going to pray for our family.’ Toral didn’t understand why they needed this strange man to pray for them when they were surely capable of praying for themselves, but she did not dare question her father.

The man pulled up two chairs beside his desk for Toral’s parents to sit down, facing each other. She stood beside her mother as the man and her father spoke to each other. She watched as the man walked over to where her father sat, closed his eyes and began to chant in this language that Toral didn’t comprehend. He then placed his hand on her father’s head as he continued to chant, and then on each of her father’s shoulders. The man had his eyes shut the entire time, almost seeming as though he was in a trance. Toral’s father kept his head respectfully lowered as this ritual continued. A few minutes later, the man opened his eyes, turned and walked over to Toral’s mother. Before he began his chanting he looked piercingly at Toral and she immediately moved away from her mother’s chair to the middle of the room. The man proceeded with the same ritual, placing his hand on Toral’s mother’s head and then on each shoulder, all the while chanting with his eyes shut and his head tilted back slightly.

Toral knew she was next and she was dreading it, but she didn’t see that she had any choice. Sure enough, a few minutes later, the man turned around and walked towards her. He stood in front of her, quite a bit taller than her – as most adults were. She could smell the nauseating mixture of betel leaf, tobacco and sweat as he breathed heavily. From the corner of her eye, she could see her mother sitting in front of her, to her left. She couldn’t see her father as the man was obstructing her view, but it felt somewhat comforting that she could see her mother.

The man began to chant. Toral kept her head lowered as the last thing she wanted was for her eyes to meet his again. Before long, she felt his hand on her head. A couple of minutes later, his hand had moved to her right shoulder. ‘Only a few more minutes,’ she said to herself, trying not to cringe as his hand brushed past her hair and settled on her left shoulder. But his hand seemed to be slipping. In complete horror, Toral felt the man’s hand slide down her shoulder, towards the middle of her chest. Before she knew what was happening, he had slipped his hand into the neck of her dress.

Toral’s feet were glued to the ground. She felt paralyzed. She wanted to push the man away, to punch him with her little fists, but she had been raised to respect all adults – especially those whom her parents, especially her scary father, expected her to respect. Gripped with intense panic, she looked at her mother, her eyes imploring for help. She was certain that her mother hadn’t been watching as she would have already jumped to Toral’s rescue. But she was wrong. Toral’s mother’s eyes were already on her - a look that couldn’t be explained. The second Toral’s gaze met hers, her mother hastily looked down at the floor in front of her. 

Complete disbelief. Shock. Helplessness. Fear. Betrayal. All kinds of emotions ran through Toral as this terrible man continued to molest her within a few feet from the two people who brought her into this world, whose job it was to protect her as a child when she was unable to protect herself. The tears streamed down the twelve year old girl’s face as she looked at her mother, silently begging her to look at her again. Toral needed her mother to see that she needed her to help her child. But she just sat there. And did nothing. Nothing.
*Name has been changed to protect identity

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Ugly Duckling

Daniella nervously stepped back to take a better look at herself in her full-length mirror. She had chosen to wear a black knee-length dress and her favourite high-heeled black shoes that allowed the tiniest bit of her red toenail polish to peek through the open bit at the front. It was the customary Valentine's Day colour, after all. She leaned forward again and looked closely at the face staring back at her. Her face was fuller than it had been in years and her once defined cheekbone structure was barely visible. Her brown, almond-shaped eyes were framed by dark, angular eyebrows. Daniella didn't understand what Jason saw in her, but he must have thought she was mildly attractive if he asked her out on this particular day. She took a deep breath and dabbed some lip-gloss onto her lips. This date was a big deal for her.
At twenty three, Daniella had not dated many men. She had always been made to feel as though she was unattractive to them. Of course they had never told her this directly. No, that would be cruel. But growing up, her best friend, Andrea, had helped her understand this - that she just wasn't pretty enough and that unfortunately, the boys just didn't like her. Daniella could recall many times as a young teenager when she would be walking home with Andrea, and Andrea would try and coach her to help her with this problem. "You have to change the way you look. You're always frowning. It makes you look really ugly," she would say. "And change the way you walk. It's weird. You always look so stiff." On some days, she would try and get Daniella to work out with her, pushing her to do as many sit-ups as she could. "If you stay fat, the boys will never look at you. You need to work out every day of the week. I think that until you can lose the weight, you should wear long tops to cover your behind." Daniella continued to listen to Andrea's words of advice, working hard to lose fat that she could not see but had been told was there, desperately wanting to be attractive.
A couple of years into high school, Daniella moved away to another school and eventually lost touch with Andrea. As the years progressed, she continued to struggle with her body image, always hearing Andrea's words in her head. The situations Daniella would find herself in seemed to reaffirm what Andrea had told her all along. Daniella would meet men and develop a liking for them, but the attraction was never mutual.
One day, while Daniella was in her second year of college, she had received a phone call from Andrea's close friend, Terry. Andrea had taken seriously ill and
been admitted in a hospital two hours away. As Daniella sat in the bus en route to the town where Andrea had been hospitalized, she recalled how Terry and Andrea would discuss her as they walked in front of her on the way to school as teenagers. Terry would say something like, "What's up with her? She's so strange. Why is she always so serious? And what is up with her tagging along behind us like that?" To which Andrea would respond, "I don't know what to do with her. Just look at how she walks, rigidly clutching on to her book bag like she's in the military or something!" And then they would howl with laughter as the tears would well up in Daniella's eyes.
When Daniella had gotten to the hospital, Andrea had seemed overjoyed to see her and had hugged her ever so tightly. Daniella had felt remorseful about the grudge she had held for seven years and had genuinely wished her friend a speedy recovery. Terry had also seemed much nicer than Daniella remembered but just as Daniella had begun to feel at ease, something had happened that made her feel like the awkward thirteen-year old again. Terry was trying to get Andrea to guess who she had met on the bus earlier that morning. "Come on, Andrea - take a guess! She was on the bus with her younger sister. You were in her Engineering class.?" Andrea had continued to look at Terry blankly. "Okay, I know you'll figure it out now - who is the ugliest, pudgiest girl we both know?!" It was at that point that Andrea had exclaimed, "Daniella!!!" and had burst out laughing.
Daniella snapped back to reality when her cell phone started to ring. She held her breath as she reached for the phone, praying that it wasn't Jason calling to cancel their date.  The name 'Zara' flashed on the caller ID display. Zara was a girl who had moved in next door to Daniella, whom she had become close friends with. Daniella answered the call and heard Zara's voice on the other end of the line. "Hey Dannie! Why don't we go catch a movie or something? I can't be home on Valentine's - it's too depressing." "Er… I have plans tonight, Zara - I'm going out for dinner with Jason," Daniella replied. Zara sounded completely surprised, as though she didn't believe it. "You mean on a date?" she asked incredulously. "Yeah, I know. Even I'm having trouble believing it," Daniella responded as her stomach fluttered. As Daniella hung up the phone, she thought to herself how strange it was that she had plans on this day when Zara didn't have a date. Zara was a beautiful girl who accustomed to having men flock around her.
Daniella took one last glance at herself in the mirror before she settled down in the living room with a magazine to wait for her date to pick her up. About ten minutes later, the doorbell rang. Daniella took a deep breath, adjusted her dress for the umpteenth time, and opened the door. To her complete surprise, it wasn't Jason who stood at the door, but Zara. "Oh, I'm so glad I caught you before you left the house," Zara said as she pushed past Daniella and made her way into the house. "I have absolutely nothing to watch and I was hoping to borrow a movie from you." Daniella glanced nervously at her watch, thinking that Jason would be arriving shortly and she really did not want them to be late for their dinner. But Zara was already flipping though the booklets that held the movie disks. As Zara sat cross-legged on the plush rug, Daniella couldn't help but notice how effortlessly pretty she was. She was dressed casually in a pair of shorts and a tank top, wearing just a hint of eye makeup that made her hazel eyes pop.
The doorbell rang again. As Daniella opened the door to let Jason in, Zara jumped up and walked over to say hello to Jason. Zara had never been too fond of Jason so it surprised Daniella when Zara stood on her tiptoes and leaned in to hug Jason. It was then that Daniella realized that Zara was wearing possibly the shortest pair of shorts she owned. "Jason, you don't mind having a seat for a few minutes while I pick out some movies, do you? Maybe you can help me go through these movies," said Zara. Jason barely looked at Daniella as he settled down into a comfy armchair, holding the movie booklet in his hand. Daniella watched helplessly as she saw him grin at Zara as he seemed to completely forget that Daniella was even in the room. She then watched in utter dismay as the vivacious Zara settled down on the arm of the chair, swung one perfectly toned long leg along the length of the arm as she flicked her hair back and flashed a dazzling smile at Jason who said, "Maybe we should just stay here and all watch a movie together"...

Thursday, 1 March 2012

High School Hunk

The sniggering from behind her grew louder as Carla positioned herself amongst her teammates on the volleyball pitch. She felt the tears well up in her eyes. She couldn’t make out exactly what the boys were saying, but she knew they were making fun of her. They always did. It was usually TJ who got all the others going. He always said the meanest things, but they were witty and would make the whole class laugh – even Carla’s best friends. He was, after all, the high school hunk. Being a fifteen year-old girl was awkward and difficult enough without having the most popular guy in school tease her every chance he got. To make matters even worse, Carla had had a crush on TJ since the sixth grade. At some point during the ninth grade, he seemed to have made it his mission to pick on Carla for his amusement and had been doing it ever since.

Carla looked through the watery pools that filled her eyes and lifted one shaky arm to serve as TJ and his buddies continued to jeer at her. The volleyball launched barely a foot in the air and descended right in front of Carla. The boys burst into laughter as Carla hurriedly wiped away a tear streaming down her cheek. The last thing she wanted was for them to see her cry. It would just make their day. She tried to tune out the words that she heard wafting her way in between the sounds of the cheering squad as she tried to concentrate on the large ball hurtling back and forth over the net. “…Thunder-thighs… Hahaha… ” It was all she could do not to burst into tears right there in the middle of the volleyball pitch. “Watch out!” someone yelled. Carla snapped back to reality but it was too late, she felt a hard thump on her head and fell back as the ball bounced off the court. As an outburst of guffaws ensued from behind her, Carla buried her face in her hands and began to sob uncontrollably…


Carla boarded the empty, dimly lit bus and took a seat right behind the driver. She hoped that if they didn’t notice her as they got onto the bus, it wouldn’t trigger them to make fun of her. She was miserable. This was their last overnight school trip to the coast and she had been looking forward to it for months, but TJ and his posse had stepped up their torturing of Carla the entire trip. They had been drinking that night and Carla could only imagine what might be in store for her on the bus ride back to the hotel. “I just have to get through tonight and then we leave to go back home tomorrow,” she thought to herself. “Just one more night”.

The sounds of chattering and laughter drew nearer and before long, the rest of the group boarded the bus as well. Carla shrank into her seat as TJ and his friends stumbled to the back of the bus. Carla’s friends, Sandra and Nina followed suit. They had been hanging out with TJ and the crew so Carla had spent most of the trip alone. As soon as everyone was on board, the bus driver set off towards the hotel. As TJ’s drunken voice filled the bus in its deep bass, occasionally joined by chuckles and giggles from the rest of the group, Carla silently prayed that TJ would not pick on her. She could hear Sandra relating a mildly funny story about their Math teacher, imitating his oddly high pitched, nasal voice which prompted a bout of booing from the boys for her feeble attempt at an impression. “Oh, stop it,” I heard Sandra say. “Carla can do a better impression of him. Carla?! Where the heck are you?” Carla did not flinch, hoping that if she pretended she was asleep, they would leave her alone. “I think she’s hiding from us,” said one of the boys. “Haha, I’d hide from people too if I looked like she did! Hahaha!” said TJ, rolling with laughter. “Can you imagine what might have had to mate to make something that looks like THAT?” As TJ proceeded to brutally and crudely detail possible options to answer his question, the tears flowed freely down Carla’s face as she stared forward into the dark night.

After what felt like an eternity, the bus pulled up to the entrance of the hotel. Carla was the first to jump off the bus. She tore through the lobby and down the hall to the room she shared with Nina and Sandra. Sobbing, she struggled to open the lock with her trembling hands and finally swung the door open. She shut the door behind her and walked into the ensuite bathroom, still crying. She looked at her streaked face in the bathroom mirror, her bloodshot, puffy eyes swollen from days of crying. How could one person make her life this miserable? She gazed down at the sink and caught sight of the razor that Sandra had used to shave her legs that evening. Carla’s sobbing slowly subsided. What if she could put an end to her misery? She had seen people attempt to slash their wrists in the movies. Carla shuddered. She didn’t have the courage to end her life. She heard her mother’s voice in her head, “When you’re fifteen, everything bad seems like it’s the end of the world. But you get through it, and things get better.” Things had to get better. Carla was at the end of her tether. TJ had put her through months of continuous misery, bullying her about the way she spoke, the way she walked, the way she looked, the way she did virtually anything.

Carla splashed some cold water on her face and patted it dry. She took a deep breath and moved towards the bathroom door to unlock it when she heard a voice. It was Nina. “You have to apologize to her, TJ. She’s really upset.” “Carla?” Sandra called out. Carla wasn’t prepared to face TJ just yet. She needed a minute to compose herself. “Carla?” This time is was TJ’s deep voice. “Hang on,” Carla replied in a shaky voice. Then she heard TJ say something in a low voice and burst out laughing. She could also hear the girls trying to suppress their laughter. It was all too much for Carla. She burst out the door and ran down the hall towards the common area.

She turned towards the pool area outside and didn’t stop running until she had gone past the empty sun-beds and through the little gate that led out onto the beach. She could hear the waves crashing into the beach in the dark and felt the strong wind on her wet face as she continued to run down the length of the beach. It was late. Most of the beach hotels’ patrons had retired for the night, and the beach bars had closed for the night. Carla’s heart was pounding against her chest as her feet sank into the wet sand, one after the other, bits of it flicking back up and hitting her bare calves. She had been running for about ten minutes and had just passed the last hotel on the strip. It was much darker now that there were no hotel lights illuminating the beach. She stopped and bent over, resting her palms on her thighs, panting as she caught her breath. She could still hear the waves as the tide moved in. The wind was strong and her hair blew fiercely around her face. She stood upright and looked around. It was almost pitch dark. Carla hadn’t thought about how unsafe it was to have come out this far so late at night. She was about to turn around and make her way back to the hotel when something in front of her caught her eye. A few meters from where she stood, three shadowy figures were moving stealthily towards her across the sand in the dark. As fear gripped her, Carla slowly turned around and started to walk briskly back towards the hotel when she stopped dead in her tracks. Another five shadowy figures were moving rapidly towards her. Carla looked over her shoulder at the three men drawing in on her and then towards the five figures advancing on her as she let out a blood curdling scream…

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Mr. Musau

The following short story has been shortlisted to appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul - The Power of Positive scheduled to hit bookstores in the U.S. in October, 2012.


I stared down at the newspaper that lay on the table in front of me, idly drumming the red ballpoint pen in my hand against my coffee mug. I had been looking through the job vacancies section but none of the openings listed seemed to fit what I was looking for. I looked up and caught my reflection in the window – sitting at this desk, in my perfectly tailored charcoal-grey business skirt suit.  You would have never guessed that that was the image of me sitting in a men’s high-end clothing store in a mall. What was I doing here? I didn’t belong. I looked around at all the men’s suits hanging neatly in rows, the expensive fabric almost shimmering under the lights that shone on them. I had recently found myself out of a job and had taken up the position of store manager for this up-scale clothing store as a temporary solution while I searched for work in the corporate world that I was better qualified for. It had only been a month and my frustration at not finding another job had been growing steadily.
My attention turned to a well-dressed woman who had just walked into the store, pushing a man in a wheelchair. At once, one of the store attendants rushed towards the man in the wheelchair to greet him. “How are you feeling, Mr. Musau?” he asked. The man stared blankly ahead of him as though he had not heard the question. He was also well-dressed but he slumped in his wheelchair, and had on his face a look of resignation. I had heard about Mr. Musau from the store attendants – he was a regular customer at the store and a good tipper. He had recently suffered a stroke and nobody had seen him for about six weeks.
The woman wheeled Mr. Musau over to the table where I had stood up from my chair, and said to me, “I’m going to pick out some new shirts for my husband. I’ll leave him here while I look around.” I nodded and smiled as she parked Mr. Musau’s wheelchair at one end of the table. “Hello there, sir,” I said as I sat down again. Mr. Musau did not respond. I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable. Silences made me uncomfortable and I usually ended up babbling away in spite of the lack of response.  
“My father had a stroke four years ago,” I blurted out without thinking. Mr. Musau continued to stare into space. “He had a blood clot in his brain which caused the stroke,” I continued “He was in a wheelchair too after that and had partially lost the use of his right leg. He had also suffered memory loss. It was incredibly difficult for him to go from being the head of the household to being dependent on my mother and me. I think he even became depressed when he got home from the hospital, and wouldn’t speak much for a few days. Then, as though something in his head had snapped, he began to behave differently. He wouldn’t allow us to do anything for him unless he had tried to do it himself first and been unable to. A couple of weeks later, he began to push himself to try and stand up from his wheelchair and walk a couple of steps at a time. He would sometimes fall down and we would have to help him up, but he always got right back up and kept trying. My father has always been a determined man. Every week, he would make it farther and farther from his wheelchair without losing his balance. Eventually, he did away with the wheelchair and was able to walk on his own without any assistance. He was back to being completely independent!” Mr. Musau had not even glanced my way the entire time that I had been speaking. “It’s incredible what the power of the mind can do, Mr. Musau,” I added softly.
At that moment, Mrs. Musau walked up to us with a bag in her hand and said to me, “I hope he hasn’t been a bother. Thank you for keeping him company.” “Not at all, Ma’am,” I replied. “Have a great day! See you later, Mr. Musau,” I called out as Mrs. Musau wheeled him out of the store.
A few weeks after that meeting with Mr. Musau, I was offered a job with one of the corporate firms I had applied to, and joined them immediately. Glad to finally have found my niche, I moved on and seldom discussed my short time spent managing the clothing store. As for Mr. Musau, I had completely forgotten about him. That was, until one Saturday, a year later when I got an unexpected call from the new store manager at the men’s clothing store. The manager said that a Mr. Musau had been asking for me for months and had finally persuaded the manager to retrieve my contacts from their system and call me so that he could speak with me. Was this really the same man who would not utter a word for the entire duration that I was with him?
Bewildered and caught off guard, I agreed to speak with Mr. Musau. “Hello?” His voice was unexpectedly steady and strong. “Hi there, Mr. Musau!” I said, taken aback, “How have you been?” The steady voice replied, “I have been trying to contact you for many months now,” he said. “I need to tell you something. After my stroke, everybody around me, including my wife, was treating me like I was already dead. I prayed every night that God would take me and relieve me of my misery and the situation I was in. And then I met you. You spoke to me as though I still mattered, even though you may have thought I wasn’t listening to you. You inspired me with your story about your father and how he used positive thought to reverse his disability. I would like very much to meet with you and your father.” With a lump in my throat, I said, “Of course, Mr. Musau. We can come and see you at home if you like – it may be more convenient for you.” The words that ensued from the other end of the line were ones that moved me a great deal. “My dear, I want to show you what your words have done for me. Thanks to you, I can now drive myself or walk to wherever it is convenient for you to meet! I want to thank you in person for helping me to realize that it was up to me to make sure that I did not waste away.” As a tear escaped and rolled down my cheek, he asked, “Isn’t it indeed incredible what the power of the mind can do?”

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


It was eight thirty on a Tuesday night. I stared at my laptop screen blearily. If only I could feel this sleepy when I needed to sleep, and not when I was up against a deadline. After weeks of intermittent insomnia, I was constantly tired and I just wasn’t being as productive at work as I should. As a result, I often found myself bringing work home just to get it done on time. As the screensaver appeared on my laptop screen for the third time, I decided I would have to take a catnap before I could get any more work done. I set the alarm on my cell-phone for nine thirty and crawled into bed.
I could hear the faint sounds coming from the TV downstairs where my mother was no doubt watching one of her favourite soaps. My father would be home soon from his evening prayer session. I felt a pang of guilt as I thought about how little time I had spent with him over the weekend.
Over the past few years, I had been watching my father slowly deteriorate physically, following his second debilitating stroke. He used a walking frame to move around and was relatively independent but getting up the stairs to his bedroom was now becoming his biggest challenge as he couldn’t always lift each leg high enough to take the next step. The doctors had spoken to us about what they called ‘tough love’. As tempting as it was to do things for him and help him up the stairs, we were encouraged to allow him to try to do things for himself. It meant being patient and allowing him to get up the stairs in his own time. And although it was now taking him much longer and was much more effort for him, he always managed to do it on his own.
As he was also having increasing difficulty walking, he would sometimes lose his balance while moving around the house on his walking frame, and end up in a sitting position on the floor. Both my mother and I would be rather alarmed each time this happened as my father was now seventy. But he would look up at us with a sheepish grin on his face, not unlike a child’s, and simply ask us to help him up. He never let his disability get to him. However, once he was on the floor, it was quite the task to pull him to his feet again as he was not a slight man and didn’t have much strength from the waist down.
I briefly debated waiting for my father to get home so I could chat with him for a while but the temptation of sleep was too sweet to resist at that point. I pulled the warm duvet over me and almost immediately drifted off into a deep, dream-filled slumber.
After what felt like only minutes, I heard my mother’s voice calling me. Surely it wasn’t nine thirty yet. Had I slept through the alarm? I just needed five more minutes. I felt my mother’s hand on my arm, nudging me, as I heard her call my name again. This time, I heard the urgency in her voice. I bolted up in bed and looked at her, my eyes searing from the light. She stood beside my bed, her eyes wide with fear and tears that streaked the sides of her face.
“What’s wrong, Mama?” I shrieked in panic.
“Dad fell… tumbled down the stairs…” Her words, uttered in between gasps of air as she hyperventilated sent me into hysteria. I jumped out of bed and shoved my mother out of the way as I flew toward the stairs. I heard my mother sobbing behind me as she followed me. As I rounded the corner of the flight of stairs, I saw him… lying motionless a few feet from the foot of the staircase. My heart stopped. I tore down the remainder of the steps, holding back the wails that threatened to escape from my mouth as I feared the worst.
I stepped over his stationary body and crouched beside him so that I could face him, not sure what to expect. His eyes were open but they stared blankly ahead at the skirting board at the base of the wall. “Daddy?” I whispered, as a tear escaped down my cheek. At the sound of my voice, my father looked up at me, an expression of utter confusion and fright on his face. “I lost my balance. I don’t know how it happened.” His voice was steady but the expression on his face remained. A wave of relief came over me as I quickly composed myself and wiped my cheek. “It’s okay, Daddy. Everything’s going to be okay. Did you hit your head? Where are you hurt?”
It was nothing short of a miracle. He had not hurt himself seriously and nothing seemed to be broken.
It took me about twenty minutes to get him to a standing position, all the while pleading with him to let me take him to the hospital. But whilst my father’s physical form might have worsened, his stubbornness was just as strong as ever. I helped him up the stairs as carefully as I could, my mother trailing behind me, a lot calmer than she had been. With her help, I got my father into bed and asked him for the umpteenth time if he was certain that he wasn’t hurt. His words were reassuring but I could tell that he was still shaken by the incident. I stroked his face and kissed him on the forehead before I turned around and bolted out of the room. I made it to my room just in time as the tears came hot and furiously down my face, my body convulsing beyond control…

Thursday, 6 October 2011


I breathed a sigh of relief as I walked out the door of the Patels’ home. Mrs. Patel was a lovely old woman, bless her, but she always insisted on feeding me Indian sweets or some sort of deep-fried vegetarian snacks. She would take my polite refusal to these offerings as demureness on my part, and would proceed to bring out little plates of the food to me anyway. On this particular day, I had a legitimate excuse not to stay as I had to pick my disabled father up from the community centre, which was a thirty-minute drive from the Patel’s residence, and take him home. I also had to get home early enough to prepare for a work trip early the following morning.
The Patels lived in a beautiful bungalow in one of Nairobi’s prime residential locations. They had these lovely trees that grew around the house. As I walked across the driveway, I admired the mango tree whose low branches almost touched the roof of my car. I resisted the temptation to tug at one of the fruits that dangled just above my head, and got into my car. It was dusk and I would have just enough time to get to the community centre to help my father make his way out of the hall.
In just over a half hour, I drove into the community centre compound and into the building’s parking lot. The harsh, white lights from the ceiling of the parking area were a stark contrast to the dimly lit streets outside. I pulled into a parking spot and stepped out of the car. As I swung the door shut, I noticed a winged insect perched on the roof of my old grey saloon car. Closer inspection confirmed that the insect was a bee. Now, ordinarily, I would not have given it much attention but this bee seemed to behave in a most curious fashion. At first, I thought it might be dead, but then I realized that it wasn’t on its back as I figured most dead insects would be. Instead, it was moving ever so slightly over the faded grey paint, its wings flapping just enough to produce a low hum. ‘Poor little guy’, I thought to myself. ‘He doesn’t look like he’s doing so well.’ I looked up, trying to figure out where the bee might have fallen from. I couldn’t see anything except for those bright lights shining down from the high ceiling.
There were people starting to filter into the parking lot from the hall where they had gathered. I began to make my way towards them, looking out for my father. I spotted him slowly moving through the crowd and I walked over to him. He stopped briefly to smile at me and say hello before he went back to concentrating on his gait. I watched patiently as he placed his walking frame forward and then slowly dragged his feet forward, one after the other, before he repeated the seemingly tedious task. In a few minutes, we had reached my car and I opened the passenger door to help my father into the vehicle. The bee was still on the roof of the car and hadn’t seemed to have moved much but there was no chance it would be able to hold on in that state once I started driving. I got into the driver’s seat and drove out of the parking lot.
Less than fifteen minutes later, I drove into the compound of town houses where we lived. I maneuvered my trusty Toyota into the parallel parking with ease, careful to leave an equidistant amount of space in front of the Land Cruiser behind me and behind the Mitsubishi in front of me. I got out of the driver’s seat and rushed over to help my father out of the passenger seat. As I pulled him up, I heard a distinct buzzing sound. I looked over dubiously at the roof of the car where the ‘dying’ bee had been. Sure enough, there it was, wings flapping and all. Only this time, it had company! There were two other bees not more than a few centimeters from each other that seemed to be in a similar predicament as the first bee. ‘How bizarre,’ I thought to myself as wished my father would move a little quicker away from the strangely behaving insects. I couldn’t understand how it was possible that after having driven home, there were now three dying bees on my car. At this point, I realized that my father was struggling to make his way down the paved path that led to our front door, so my focus switched to helping him into the house, and I put the ‘bee incident’ out of my mind.
As soon as we were in the house and I had gotten my father settled into his favourite armchair, I got down to work, preparing my notes for my work trip the following day. In two and a half hours, everything was in order and I had even packed my bags. I was about to settle down for the night when I realized that I had forgotten to pack a folder of documents which I had left in my car. I made my way downstairs, passing my mother who was reading in the living room, and opened the front door.
It was a lovely night. The almost-full moon shone brightly and seemed to light up the outside better than the dome-shaped lamps that dotted the periphery of the compound. As I walked down the paved path towards my car, I noticed that even the dull grey paint of my beat-up old Toyota shimmered in the moonlight. In fact, it glistened so much that it almost appeared to be vibrating. Really, it seemed like the entire car was quivering into the night. And then I heard it. It was the buzzing that I had heard earlier that evening. Only it was a few decibels higher. I stopped short in my tracks, a few feet from my car and my blood turned cold as I gazed incredulously at the sight before my eyes.
What seemed like hundreds of slowly dying bees covered the entire length of my saloon car in a thick layer, pouring slowly over the sides and onto the ground almost like a dark, viscous liquid. All around the car, there was a thick border on the tarmac that was made up of the insects. Not a single bee could be seen on either of the two cars that sandwiched mine. Yet my car was so fully covered by the insects, it was difficult to tell what colour it was, save for the sides off which the bees dropped to the ground. I stood rooted to the ground, staring in disbelief at this phenomenon for a few minutes before I whirled around and ran, shrieking, back into the house.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


I stepped outside and took a long, deep breath as I shut my eyes, feeling the cool breeze against my face. I had just walked out of a business meeting at this beautiful golf and country club located on the outskirts of Nairobi. The grounds were spectacular and the air was crisp and clean. It was too bad that I had to go back to the office before I could wrap up for the day.
As I got into my car and pulled out of the parking spot, I decided that I would come back on a weekend – and perhaps bring my dear mother along for one of our mother-daughter dates. My mother, whilst struggling with her own health problems as she aged, cared for my disabled father and didn’t get out of the house much. Occasionally, when my father would join his fellow senior citizens for a community-organized outing, I could steal my mother away for some quality time together and have a good girly gab. She would definitely love this place, what with its plush gardens and peaceful ambiance.
I made my way through the snail-paced traffic back into the city. The roads were being constructed and the numerous diversions caused major snarl-ups. I turned up the radio, bobbing my head to the rhythm of one of my favourite ‘80s songs. I could see my exit just up ahead to the left which, fortunately, seemed to have flowing traffic. As I belted out the lyrics to the Stevie Wonder song, I realized that the passengers in the stationary bus beside my car were watching me with smirks on their faces. Thankfully, the car in front of me moved forward and I hit the accelerator.
Just as I negotiated the corner onto the clear road, I heard the sound of my cell-phone ringing. I switched gears and looked briefly at the phone. It was my mother. I was not generally in the habit of answering phone calls whilst driving, but I turned the volume of the radio down and hit the speaker button on my phone. “Hello?” There was no answer. The phone display indicated that the call had ended. I hit the call button and turned on the speaker again. I wanted to tell my mother about the golf and country club.
“Mama?” My mother had picked up the call but wasn’t saying anything. “Mama, can you hear me?” Then I heard her quivering voice on the other end say something that I couldn’t make out. My body tensed up as I responded in a firm but steady voice, “Mama! What’s wrong? What happened?” I had grown somewhat accustomed to receiving panicked phone calls from my mother about something or the other happening to my father. I would invariably rush home to them, keeping level-headed and calm so that I’d be able to deal with the situation swiftly. My father had already suffered two strokes and I was always terrified that one day I would receive the dreaded call from my mother to say he had had another…or worse. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was what I was about to find out.
Her words were punctuated with erratic breaths… “I f-fell… hit m-my head… bleeding s-so m-much… p-please… p-please c-come quickly…”
Some of what transpired between then and the time that I got my mother home after four hours at the A&E is a blur. These are the things I do recall: I remember driving like a maniac, overtaking cars that seemed to move at a sluggish pace. I remember calling two friends to see if they could get to my house before I did. I remember calling my mother back, screaming hysterically on the phone for her to stay with me, sobbing in horror as she sounded like she was fading away. I remember getting home and somehow managing to calmly but swiftly get my mother into the car and speeding off to the A&E. I remember my mother clutching my hand as the doctor sutured the nasty gash on her head. I remember smiling reassuringly at her as she lay on the hospital bed, watching me for signs of panic at the sight of the wound.
That night, after I got my mother all cleaned up, I sat with her until she felt calm enough to fall asleep. I then got her into bed and kissed her forehead, telling her that all would be well. As I settled down under my own warm duvet, all I wanted to do was fall asleep and forget that this day had ever happened. But as I shut my eyes, I started to feel an uneasiness set in and the images began to reel through my mind… the look of terror in my mother’s eyes when she looked up at me as I flew into the house… the sight of blood dripping down the side of her face from underneath the towel that she clutched at the side of her head… her navy-blue dress, soaked in the dark liquid… the splotches of red glistening all over the terrazzo floor… the water that just didn’t seem to run clear from a washcloth that I used to wipe my mother’s face and around the stitched up wound…
As my body began to convulse beyond my control, I knew that these were images that would lay ingrained in my memory forever.