‘Your temperature is off the scale,” the doctor was saying in his silky voice. “You have a dry cough. Your chest is tight.”
“That’s what they used to tell me, 50 odd years ago,” said Grandma Sandra.
The hard-eyed young medic looked confused. “That you have a dry cough?”
“About my chest,” Grandma Sandra said, and smiled. “I was a cheer leader for our college rugby team.”
For a second, the doctor looked utterly dismayed. Women his grandmother’s age were not supposed/allowed to make such suggestive jokes.
Coming from the apple-and-pie little old lady across him, it sounded even worse; something north of naughty. “We’ll have to take you into quarantine, Mrs Kinyume.”
“Where is your husband? It says in this box that you’re married.”
“Row 44, C, Langata cemetery. Fifteen years he’s lived there.”
“Oh, oh, I am so sorry.”
“But, hack hack hack, forgive my dry cough, my daughter is my next of kin. If I die, she gets everything.”
“You are not going to die, Mrs-you-know-what, may I call you Sandra?”
“If you will be my bodyguard, then I will be your long lost pal…”
“I can call you Betty, and when you call me, call me Al.”
“Mrs Kinyume, pardon me for asking this, but are you seeing another doctor for, hum, Alzheimer’s or dementia?”
Grandma Sandra sighed. “Relax doc, it’s just a song.”
The look of relief on his face, like he could shit himself. “Who by?” Polite but not the least bit of curiosity in it.
A shrug. Nonchalant. “I’m afraid I’ve never heard of them.”
“86. Him. It was before your time, daktari. You weren’t even a ‘tozoon’.”
“I want a shot at redemption, pal. Don’t want to end up a cartoon, in a cartoon graveyard.”
“You won’t end up in any graveyard grandma. Just fourteen days here, strictly for tests and observation.”
“You are taking me into quarantine right away, aren’t you?”
“Maybe this is the time to call your daughter, Mrs Kinyume.”
“You can call me Sandra…”
“Or Betty…or Al...”
“This is serious, madam. Look, I’ll just step out for a minute.”
To get the corona capture cobra squad!
“I suggest you use that time to inform your daughter that you are here be-because they may not let her see you, uhm, later.”
Once the daktari with the hard eyes had stepped out of the sparse white office, a soulless space with not even a photograph on the white desk to suggest another life away from here, the panic swept through her.
She had to grope onto the edge of the desk to get hold of a piece of reality.
Swoon to the floor -- a pretty phrase, very light and white, not meant to be made weighty by becoming a fact in a hard world that also had space for weightless microbes.
How many of them, swimming, swarming her lungs, would it take to kill her? Send her to live next to Joe on row 44, C, Langata. A million? A billion? One trillion?
The night they had made the egg and ‘tozoon’ that became her still birth, 12 years after her daughter, with ten years in-between (when Joe had gone to the USA for further studies and stayed away so long she was sure he’d married a chubby white woman with big blue eyes and freckles, and would never return), they had been listening to the Paul Simon album.
“Mr Beerbelly, beerbelly,” she had sung along, as she gave him some TLC, “get these nuts away from me...”
Joe had cracked up so hard, it was a wonder he didn’t take until the January of 1990 to get himself tuned on again.