WHY THE HOSPITAL CORRIDOR IS WHITE
Purify our hearts of all that is earthly, all that is proud and sensual, all that is hard and cruel, of all perversity, of all disorder, of all deadness
Achieng is a renown neurosurgeon in Nairobi. As her star continues to shine, her marriage begins to shake. Then her health flounders.
The stories that her mother told her, about the ghosts that follows granddaughters, begin to make sense. Her father who left when she was a young girl resurfaces. She hopes to save her marriage. But will she save her life?
My husband came home on Sunday morning.
I was preparing to leave for church and that same afternoon I was flying to Kisumu. The night before, I had thought a lot about the place of God in my life. After our father left, my mother became deeply religious. She prayed before and after every meal, every morning and at dusk. Every Sunday, we attended an antique Catholic church in Westlands.
Our mother enlisted us as girl-guides. Every Saturday we attended choir practice and lessons on Catholic virtues. Fr. Ramos, a short Italian with jug-like ears, counselled us, helped us with our prayers, novenas, and guided us through sodalities. We had two rosaries each—a Swarovski Crucified Jesus pendant with a sterling silver chain and a ruby Red Heat rosary.
While I tolerated the rosaries, Akello hated wearing them. To Akello, a rosary was an old nun’s jewelry. Think of the rosary as a garland of roses, our mother would charm her whenever she helped her put one of the rosaries on. It will keep evil spirits away, she would say. To make sure we never strayed from the teachings of Jesus and Catholicism, our mother whisked us both to a Catholic school at the foot of Mount Kenya.
In school, lesbianism was rampant, and as you would expect, the nuns hated it. They made us recite chapter seven of the book of Jude every other day. Sodom and Gomorrah acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, so if you touch one another, God will see this school as Sodom and Gomorrah, they warned us. These huge trees will be uprooted by the wind and your dormitories will burn in the middle of the night.
I remember a day when two girls were caught kissing each other. A further search through the dormitory unearthed hidden dildos and pornographic magazines. The head nun gave us a lengthy lecture about hell. The following morning, a winter-cold Saturday, the nun shepherded us into a moldy chapel. All the teachers were present, even the young male ones we giggled over and fantasized about. The head nun took us through a Petition to Mary by St. Alphonsus Liguori. For hours we pleaded with Mary the queen of the universe, the advocate, the hope, the refuge of sinners. We told her about how miserable a crop of sinners we were.
The culprits found with dildos, about ten of them, were pushed on their knees, their dildos tied to their waists, and they were instructed to repeat the words of To the Heart of Jesus in the Eucharist prayer;
Purify our hearts of all that is earthly, all that is proud and sensual, all that is hard and cruel, of all perversity, of all disorder, of all deadness.
It is one thing to shame a girl in front of her fellow girls and quite another to shame them before young men. They were so ashamed they could only look at the floor. I felt bad for them. I had used a dildo myself. Why was it so wrong to tickle yourself? After that day I hated religion and swore never to step in church. When I returned home for the holidays, I told my mum that I would not go to church.
“Why would you turn your back on Jesus?” She said.
“I’m old enough to know what I want, Mama! There are many things I want but Church is not one of them.”
Since then, I had not visited any church out of personal desire. Apart from a few marriages and child dedications I had been invited to, I had never crossed the mental battle line that those nuns had drawn between me and religion.
But the previous night, as I tossed and turned alone on my matrimonial bed, I felt an urge to go to Upper Hill Catholic Church, once our home church. Even if I still had no desire to reunite with God, I wanted to sit on pews and walk the aisles. When you seat in the pews, there is a radiant light that permeates through the high stained glass windows. I wanted to have that experience again. Maybe I wanted to find out if I could resurrect the happiness I once had as a young girl guide, pious and obedient before the altar of God, relishing the sweet scent of incense.
My plan was to go for the 10.30 a.m. service and then proceed to the airport for my flight to Kisumu. I was still mulling over those plans when my husband arrived.
He had on a linen shirt and khaki pants. I realized that he also wore a new perfume with a woody fragrance. We said ‘hi’ to each other. I wanted to say welcome but since I was a bit miffed at his disappearing act, my mouth did not find it easy to let the word roll off the tongue. He asked me where I was going.
“Can we talk before you leave?” He asked.
My Uber, a new black Toyota Premio, was already waiting, purring beyond the front porch. My husband sat on the couch across from me, his phone in hand, and one leg resting on top of the other.
“Would you like some tea? I have already taken some.” I offered. He said he was fine. I tried not to glance impatiently at my wrist-watch. I didn’t have much time left.
“I have been thinking about our relationship,” he started.
“Okay.” I said.
“Our relationship has broken down,” he said and paused, perhaps to measure what I thought about ‘broken down’. We’d talked about it already, so I just nodded.
“It has been tough for me. I can’t take it anymore,” he continued and then his phone rang. “Hey, babe! Let me call you back!”
There was a silence as the informal endearment he had used sunk in. Was it a mistake? Or was it a well calculated cockiness? Then the realization of what he had let slip registered on his face. My question was answered.
“I think I have to go!” I said standing up.
“Wait for what? Is she on her way to introduce herself to me?”
“I told you. I begged you. That I wanted this to work. I told you that I am ready to quit medicine and save my family. I told you I don’t want my daughter – our daughter—to grow up without you. Do you remember? Do you remember…”