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Of Love and Insects by Muthoni Garland

Hard to imagine Baba, the headmaster, talking of curses in the shape of an evil word that turned the natural order upside down and forced father to bury his children. He never spoke the word, but it worried his mind until a stroke claimed him. But Doreen couldn’t help it - she wanted to say it all the time, AIDS, AIDS, AIDS.

“Wallowing in grief is not going to change things for the better.” 

“I know. But I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t need the time.”

“What do you hope to do in this time?”

She could go back to Mamba Village, disco with The Deliriously Happy until dawn. That would surprise Mr. Cartwright. He probably slotted Doreen amongst the saved brigade - those pious spinsters who pledged themselves to Jesus and buzzed around the pastor. He would have been right once. Before Ambrose wore out his knees in the New Redeemer’s Church praying for redemption.

“You’ve not thought it through, have you?”

Well, she could always lay more traps for cockroaches. She’d stand by the light switch in her kitchen All Night Long. Every now and then, in no particular pattern because bugs were bright, she’d flick it on and spray the ones that fell for bits of food strategically placed on the tiled floor. Though she scrubbed her floors and walls daily, Doreen could always count on roaches honing their antennae beyond the smell of bleach. Hardy little suckers probably hid in neighbouring flats waiting for her to fall asleep. And because they looked the same, she could swear it was the same bloody roaches she’d emptied a can on the night before. Doreen hated enemies who hid themselves. 

Mr. Cartwright drawled into her reverie. “Is your sister a model?”


“You should introduce her to the advertising people. I like her attitude.”

“Good,” Doreen snapped, even as she noted the light in his eyes - an opening. 

Of course, there were depths to Philo that surprised. Apart from when bedridden, Philo refused to let anyone fuss about her condition. She’d even started a diploma on counselling. But his innuendo implied that compared to her sister, Doreen was over-reacting. What could he understand of this haplessness, this loss of control that not even her upbringing, education, and relative wealth inured her from? He probably assumed that she was sliding into the generic African condition, a state that only required firm handling - ‘a jolly good talking to.’

“Look, I’m not unsympathetic as to how you feel…”  

“But there are deadlines to meet,” she finished for him, “Global expectations and obligations.”

“I need you to help me help you,” he said in an exasperated tone. “I need your help to put this corruption business to bed.”

Doreen sipped the cold water, and carefully placed the glass on the table. Her hands were wet with condensation. 

“We’ve got choices, Doreen. And choices have consequences. You know that and I know that.”

So this was it, she thought – Bob’s artistic fingers held out either the promise of directorship or the door. She shut her eyes. Her legs parted as she sunk deeper into the foundations of the accommodating sofa. She hoped there were no dudus down there. She become aware of a faint discordant noise rising from the streets as matatu drivers revved their engines and blared horns, and conductors called out to potential customers, “Beba! Beba!” The noise prickled the air-conditioned façade of the office. Even here, Africa ruled. It just fed enough rope to fool some into thinking otherwise.


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Per Contra Spring 2007