Nights means dreams. Mostly I dream of the little girl in the coma, lying there, her small fragile hands in the hands of her mother, her face impassive, the face that lost a body. Machines breath for her. Other times I dream of her running in this big field of brown grass on one of those evenings that the big orange sun seems to take a tad longer to sink behind the hills. Sometimes I dream of her sitting at the edge of my bed, wiping my sweaty brow, and shaking my shoulders gently, willing me to come out of the sleep. Then there are nights I wake up because I can hear her crying, these brittle sobs that snap like dry twigs, only to realise that it’s the cats outside in the modest maize farm behind my room. Those days I wake up with a jolt, heart racing and I lie on my back on that small three by six bed, my blanket half covering half of my naked body and I listen to the the swaying branches of the tree outside scrap the corrugated roof outside our window.
One night I couldn’t sleep so I woke up and pulled up my shorts and I eased myself out into the corridor. It was just after 3am, a nice warm breezy night. I walked, barefoot and barechested, down the long verandah and sat at the steps of the dormitory, with my view the old blue gate and the big mango tree in the middle of the compound. It’s shadow curled over the verandah . The whole center was silent, the admin block empty and in darkness, a mothership that has powered down for the night. I could smell the dew settling on the grass. Nights are the toughest because you have to be alone with your devil. There are no group forums to sit around talking about the days you woke up in strange bedrooms next to strange girls with very dark nipples.
I sat there with my chin resting on my folded knees, staring at the little security house at the gate, now dark. An occasional dog barked in the distance. Lone dark clouds slowly glided up in the pale blue sky. I stared at that gate hard and thought I could just walk over and jump over it. I could simply up and leave this place and these broken people. I wouldn’t even need a shirt. I would leave everything back here because I wouldn’t want to carry the smell of this place with me. The smell of self doubt and dying hope. What do I own anyway apart from my Bible, four pairs of trousers, five shirts, one pair of canvas shoes, a pen and a book? Clothes that don’t even belong to me, clothes that hang onto me like a disease because I have wilted down to half of Jeff’s size. I look ridiculous in them, trousers folded at the bottom, shirts folded at the sleeves and collars big enough to fit another neck.
I could easily walk away from all that. I could jump over that gate and disappear into the night. It would break mom’s heart. Mom and Jeff.
Suddenly a long beam of light shone in my face from the security house at the gate. I didn’t even flinch because my reflexes have become so bad. I have reflexes of an old elephant. The torch remained on my face for what seemed like an eternity and I stared into it without blinking. Finally it went off and I saw the lumbering figure of Ochi, the ageing security guy shuffling over to me, mumbling in the process. He came and stood right before me.
“You know this is not allowed, Larry.” He growled like an ageing dog. “You have to get back to your room.”
I stared at his booted feet, the toes worn. He had big feet. He smelled of old cigarettes and a warehouse; mouldy and craving of sunlight.
“Get back inside or I will have to report this to Father in the morning.” He said.
“I can’t sleep.”
“Then stay in your bed,” he said, this time his voice softer.
I didn’t move. He shifted from one foot to the other, unsure of what to do. I didn’t care if he reported this to Father or to God himself.
“I dream of this little girl every night” I said to myself. “ I dream of her and of these wheelbarrows. She is always asking me to pick one of the five wheelbarrows to push her in and we have this arguments and she starts crying saying, ‘why won’t you let me choose the wheelbarrow I like? Why can’t I get my own wheelbarrow?”
Ochi stood still like a watchtower as I talked to his shoes. There was a long hollow pause filled only with the sounds of incessant crickets.
“How old was she?”
“Can I have a cigarette?” I mumbled.
He sat the end of the staircase and leaned on the pillar near it with a long sigh, as if this small story had completely worn him out. “I can’t give you a cigarette, you know it’s against the rules here.” I could feel his stare on me. His gaze was warm against my skin, like an open fire.
Then I started crying. I hated when I cried. I seemed to cry a lot since I came here. He sat there, slumped against the pillar like a bag of grains. I sniffled, wiped my face with the back of my hands. An owl howled.
“Do you read the Bible, Larry?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No,..not lately, my wrists are too weak.” He chuckled.
“Read, Galatians 5:1 tomorrow morning when you wake up.”
“No, Galatians 5: 1. It’s not a long verse, so I’m sure you can make time for it.”
I mumbled it trying to keep it in my head. Galatians 5:1.
“What does it say?”
“Just read it.” Then he struggled to stand up, holding the pillar for support as he heaved his body up. How this guy is entrusted with the security of this place beats me, maybe God helps him.
“Come on, tell me.”
He sighed and lit the furthest part of the compound with his torch. Without looking at me he said, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
“I wasn’t a slave.”
“You are a slave of alcohol, Larry. That’s why you are here. Now go back to your room.”
The next day was Sunday and we were allowed to call home. I hadn’t called home in the five weeks I was here. There was one phone in Father’s office which you had to book for a three minute call at a specific time.
Mom picked on the third ring. I could hear a cow mooing in the background.
“Is that a cow, mom?” I asked.
“Larry, is that you?” She asked excitedly.
“Yes it’s me.” I said. “Is that a cow?”
“Are you okay?” She sounded panicked. “Where are you calling me from?”
“From the rehab mom,” I said, “I haven’t escaped yet.”
I could hear her breath a sigh of relief and maybe controlling her tears. Mom was as teary as I had become.
“How are you? How are the meals? Are you exercising? Do they allow you to go play outside because it’s important? Are you reading your Bible, are -”
“Mom,” I said, “Calm down. I’m fine. I walk around the field sometimes. And yes, I’m reading my Bible. Was that a cow I heard?”
She blew her nose. “Sorry, I have a cold. It’s cold in Eldoret, it rains all the time.” She blew her nose again, this time louder. I waited. “How are you feeling, Larry?”
“I get these dreams mom, about these wheelbarrows and about the girl how is she?”
She paused a bit.
“Same old. I talked to the mother last evening.” She kept quiet for a while, gathering her thoughts. “What kind of dreams do you have?”
“You know, of that girl. She talks to me, at times. I dream of her and wheelbarrows, blue wheelbarrows. I can’t sleep, mom.”
She sighed. “You have to pray. Do you pray?”
“Prayer makes everything better.”
“I don’t feel better.”
“How do you feel?”
“I feel sleepy during the day.”
“Then sleep during the day, don’t they allow you to sleep during the day?”
“If this was play school they would.”
Mom blew her nose again.
“Larry, God’s way is difficult to comprehend.”
The next person to use the phone came into the room, a tall guy with spectacles. He was in for drugs. He reminded me of a fox with his hollow eyes.
“Mom, I have to go – “
“Larry,” she said, “remember to read your Bible.”
“I will,” I said quickly. “Was that a cow I heard earlier?”
This is an excerpt from a small novella project I’m currently working on. The protagonist, Larry, is a bit of an ass. But what’s a novella without some ass?