“Caleb was driving home, like he always did. Driving a plain white Toyota. Dusk. Broken streetlight. Lorry stopped middle of the road. Maybe Caleb was tired – he lectured at the public university - you’ve no idea how crowded the classes. Maybe he was distracted by a fly - lots of flies in Nairobi. Because of the quick hands of street children, he’d probably opened only the slightest gap in his window for fresh air. But flies have a nasty way of finding the littlest gap don’t you think?”
Mr. Cartwright frowned in either concentration or consternation. “I’m not sure where this is going…”
In an intimate conversational tone, Doreen continued, “Those first on the scene helped themselves to his mobile phone and briefcase. Those who came later - small fish because big fish never stop unless they recognise the car - asked if he had medical insurance or a card, and checked his car for stickers. But the scene was a mess by then and his wallet long gone. He died before they could get him to hospital. What I couldn’t get over is the idea of a bloody accident! In comparison, AIDS seems meaningful.”
“Doreen, I hear your pain.”
“I need more than that.”
“I’m terribly sorry, but my hands are tied.”
Doreen caught sight of a movement, the tiniest blur above the jug on the table. But when she blinked it was gone. “Maybe the truth will untie your hands.”
“Caleb did have AIDS. They found a bottle of retrovirals in the mashed-up glove box of his car. See, he hid his status to spare me, my mother, Philo…us. Impossible task. Like trying to rid the world of dudus.”
“God! That’s terrible.”
“As they emptied his pockets, how many hands, do you think, touched his blood?” Doreen shuddered. “Blood crawling with invisible bugs.”
Mr. Cartwright’s Adam’s apple moved up and down as though a helicopter beetle were stuck there. “Doreen, I think you need to talk to an expert.”
“A pastor who’d tell me to count my blessings? A counsellor who’d listen to me rant and then advise me to channel my anger more productively? Or my mother who’d shame me with her tears? Perhaps,” Doreen twisted her mouth, “you think I should turn to Philo with her games and positive…attitude?”
Relief washed over Doreen that she hadn’t betrayed her sister’s status, even though that was probably the only news that would shake Cartwright. Bitterly, it struck her that even though he’d only met Philo for a few minutes, she was more real to him than Doreen.
“I just don’t think it appropriate for me…”
“Then why did you ask about me, about my family?” Doreen hesitated, and then lifted her chin towards the glass partition, towards the directors who now stared openly, not even pretending to talk amongst themselves. “Is it because of them? Did they, in not so many words, imply that you don’t know the way of Africans? Did they ask you to probe, see if my grief is real and not just an excuse for malingering?”
Mr. Cartwright started to shake his head, but she spoke before he could reply.
“Why the questions then? Why not just fire me?”
“That is simply not fair. I’d wanted to persuade you to come back to work.”
His use of past tense registered. He’d not only given up trying to determine if she was drowning or pretending, he’d decided it didn’t matter.
“Yellow, yellow, dirty fellow,” she mumbled under her breath.
Per Contra Spring 2007