A single glance from across the room sends me searching the floor for pennies. I cannot meet
her gaze. And yet she does not relent.
Unease hangs in the air- as does a sickly bitter scent. The gold sun pours into the room from
a window at the end of the hall washing over the floor in a fiery flood of gilded light. Except
for the goings-in and comings-out of the hefty white-dressed and blue-sweatered nurses (I
think they call them matrons) with their endless lamentations, the hallway is shrouded in
silence. There are four of us seated there. And I cannot meet her gaze.
‘Panua miguu Mama’. I wince. In my head I cannot help but think that maybe the doctors
should exercise a little bit more decorum. Or that maybe the walls should be a little bit
thicker. But then it strikes me that here, in this secluded part of the hospital, in Clinic 66, I am
the stranger. Two of the ladies continue their animated conversation in not-so-hushed tones. I
cannot tell what they are talking about. My mind is probably still struggling to come to terms
with this new place and the experience of it. Her curious stare still seemingly struggles to
pierce my intentions. And I cannot meet her gaze.
The floor offers up no pennies. Instead, dark islands the colour of spilled and dried black
sugarless tea dot the golden sea of light. The ‘Mama’ walks out of the examination room
accompanied by one of the hefty nurses. My eyes unconsciously track her footsteps. Actually,
what my eyes watch is the floor where her last step was as she walks. It is dry, and so my
guess is that she is here for a follow-up visit. Clinic 66 caters for women with vesico-vaginal
fistulae, a condition where a hole forms between the urinary bladder and the vagina. That
explains the sickly bitter scent and the spilled and dried sugarless black tea islands.
I briefly attempt to look in her direction. I am still evasive of her gaze though. I am convinced
that if our eyes met, her curiosity about what a lad my age is doing in this secluded and
exclusive part of the hospital would be met only by an empty stare. Or perhaps pity. And I
do not think it is pity she hopes to see. I do not think pity is what any of the women sitting
in the hallway with me wishes to see. They have no doubt suffered it all. I read somewhere
that sometimes affected women would rather desert their husbands than let them in on their
suffering. And with good reason I suppose. Shame can drive one mad. One cannot help but
imagine what embarrassment a problem so obvious about something so private and taboo to
the African would bring to the sufferer. Women will talk. Men will whisper as they sit under
trees at evening to roast. Children will eagerly gather the crumbs and leftovers of the tall tales
and the gossip. They will munch on them heartily… And what pain it will bring when the
insults are hurled from the mouths of babes. So I cannot return her gaze. I cannot return it if
all I have to offer is pity.
Her son walks in. Her face brightens. He’s probably in his late twenties. Her face barely
betrays the years she has faced though. Quickly, their conversation evolves from customary
greeting (I guess) to a very animated discussion. I cannot tell what they are saying. But the
melody in the words as they utter them is bewitching. Suddenly the golden sea washes over
the spilled and dried black sugarless tea islands and a gentle breeze clears the sickly bitter
smell. She is smiling. Her hands are waving as she describes what is probably the wonder of
being in so large a hospital. Or maybe she is just painting a vivid picture of the hefty white-
dressed and blue-sweatered nurses. I will never tell. And perhaps I hope I never do. The
language may lose its music and mystique. As a clueless observer, at least I can fill in the
blanks with my romantic ideals. All I know is that she is smiling. There is life in her. And the
efforts of the staff at Clinic 66 have a lot to do with it.