By Patrick Ngugi
Mabel was late. Very late. It was getting to 10.30 pm and this worried me tremendously because the stretch from the matatu stage to the house was quite dangerous at this time of the night. I did not trust the bodaboda cyclists who hung there preying on women.
I picked the phone again hoping to see a missed call. Nothing. I dialed her number. It rang without response. Gosh, where could she be?
Why was she doing this to me?
I threw the phone on the sofa and walked to the kitchen and retrieved a can of cold beer from the fridge and walked back to the sitting room. I then threw myself on the sofa and opened the can and then took a long swig, then a deep breath.
Mabel – Mabel Wacu, my love.
This was the girl I was going to propose tonight, and it seems that a pleasant day had been ruined by her lateness. I was really worried because she would not answer her phone whenever I called her. Did she manage to visit her step mother’s place, I wondered.
Mabel and I had known each other for over a year, even before I relocated to Nanyuki town, about two and a half hours drive from the capital city of Nairobi. I had just gotten a new job as the chief sales manager with Zarota Horticulture Corporation, and I looked forward to her joining me as soon as we got married, hopefully in a few months’ time.
Early this morning, she was to see her sick step mother at Umoja, Inner Core estate, Nairobi, after which she would jump into a SATOME Shuttle which would arrive in Nanyuki by 8pm. I was to collect her at the stage, bring her to my two bedroom apartment and spring a surprise at her by proposing to her after a sumptuous dinner which my sister Liz had helped prepare.
This is why Liz I were worried
In order not to miss a spot in the shuttle, she had booked a ticket in advance before visiting her stepmother, and texted Liz and I that she would be coming with SATOME Shuttle and asked us to expect her in Nanyuki by 8 pm.
My neighbor Kimani and his wife Eddah who knew that my girlfriend was coming today had popped in earlier to meet her but were also disappointed, and said they would meet her the next day.
This is why Liz and I were worried. It was now past 10.30 pm and we could not get her on phone. Then the phone rang. I jumped up in excitement hoping against hope that it was her. Instead, it was my sister, who lived in an estate about a kilometer away.
‘’Hi Liz, have you heard from her?’’
‘’No Moses, but I managed to get the shuttle’s office number. I have just called them to inquire why their vehicle is late.’’
‘’They are also puzzled, because the driver isn’t picking their call. Maybe it’s in silent mode since they are not allowed to use the phone while driving.’’
‘’So we wait or what?’’
‘’Yes, let’s wait and hope everything is okay… But they also told me that the vehicle was late in leaving Nairobi as some passengers did not arrive in time. It left about half an hour late and it was because of the passengers already in the vehicle who were complaining of the delay.’’
‘’That explains, then but I wonder why she isn’t calling, or picking the phone. She should have at least called to tell us about the delay,’’ I said.
‘’There must be a good reason, because even if they left half an hour late, the vehicle should have been here at around 9pm. Anyway, let’s pray and wait,’’ Liz said.
‘’Don’t panic. But let’s meet at Chaka.’’
I tried watching some shows on TV as I took my beer to cool my nerves. Then about 30 minutes later, my phone rang. ‘’that must be her,’’ I thought as I picked the phone. It was Liz again, and I held my breath.
‘’Moses… did you watch the breaking news?’’
‘’What breaking news…?’’
‘’Don’t panic. But let’s meet at Chaka. There has been a terrible accident between a shuttle matatu and an oil tanker. God, I just hope it’s not Mabel’s. I am on my way there right now,’’ she said and hung up.
I could not wait. Adrenalin was flowing in my veins. I said a quick prayer as I slipped into my shoes and a pullover. As I locked the front door, I met Kimani in the corridor. Without much talk, I asked him to follow me to the car, and without much questions he obliged, after reading the look on my face.
I drove like a bat out of hell. I had to get to the accident scene and rescue my Mabel. Oh God, I prayed as I negotiated sharp bends and avoiding other drivers, who hooted and called me names, but I did not care. I had to rescue Mabel, that’s the one thought that dominated my mind.
She is ok… nothing has happened to her… I found myself reassuring my worried self.
The accident scene was devastating. There were the clueless and annoying crowds all over the place, and the police were having a hard time keeping them at bay. The petroleum tanker was lying on its side about 100 metres away with a huge fireball engulfing it. The matatu that it had rammed into was written off and one wonders if anyone had survived.
At the thought of this I felt like I would faint. No, I had to break the police barrier. I had to go and rescue my Mabel.
I pushed my way through the crowd and reached the police cordon.
A heavy lump of emotion grabbed my throat
“Where do you think you are going?” the heavily built cop was staring at me.
“I want to see her. I want to see Mabel,” my voice felt detached from my body. I could not bring myself to believe that Mabel had been in this flaming vehicle, but logic was not working, and I tried to push the police officer aside.
“Mzee, you can’t go there. Can’t you see that vehicle is completely burnt?” The cop said pushing me back.
Then as a heavy lump of emotion grabbed my throat, I felt a warm and comforting arm come around my shoulder.
I turned. “Oh Liz, what happened. Where is Mabel?” was all I could say as my head, full of sweat and tears buried onto her bosom. I could hear her whimper too. She was also crying, and I could not help but weep with her. Our friend had gone.
“Please move back. This fire is dangerous, it could explode and hurt all of you,” said the cop as he pushed us farther behind.
“She’s gone, Moses, she is gone,” wept Liz as she stared at me, the fire from the burning tanker playing with the tears in her eyes. I could not hold it any longer. Holding her hand we walked a few metres away and sat on a felled trunk of a tree and watched as the other excited onlookers stared and others taking selfies and video clips of the fire which had consumed the tanker, the matatu and the love of my life.
I was unable to sleep the whole night. The matatu had been destroyed beyond salvaging, and the only remnants in the vehicle were ashes and it would be difficult to differentiate ashes from the bodies and the parts of the vehicle. My neighbor Kimani drove Liz and I home since I could not drive.
At first I could not remember what had happened
Each time I closed my eyes, I saw images of happy Mabel, and it hurt me deeply realizing that my proposal would now not take place, and I had lost a lovely woman for good. We huddled close together with Liz and Kimani’s wife Joy as they tried to console me.
I don’t know what time I found sleep, but I stirred awake, and saw the rays of sunlight straying into the living room. Apparently I had spent the night here, as I could see the duvet covering that was on the sofa covering me, while I was still in my clothes.
At first I could not remember what had happened, then the whole truth downed on me. Liz and Kimani’s wife must have covered me with the duvet from my bedroom after I fell asleep. I sat up on the sofa, wondering where to start. We would have to call Mabel’s brother to inform him what had happened.
‘’Hey, you are up?’’ Liz asked me as she walked in from the kitchen. It was still early and I realized she had not gone home.
‘’Yes, just woken up.’’
‘’How are you feeling,’’ she asked ‘’would you like some coffee? I have prepared some.’’ she said trying to cheer me up with her motherly smile.
‘’Yes please, ‘’ I said as I stood up and stretched myself. I went to the bathroom, refreshed up by washing my face, and came back to the living room. I looked for my phone in order to call George, Mabel’s elder brother, so that I could give him the bad news. Then I thought, isn’t it too early, and changed my mind. I will call him at about 9 am. But I still needed to see if I had any messages. So I searched in my coat, but my phone wasn’t there.
‘’What are you looking for?’’ Liz asked as she walked into the room with a tray of coffee and some sandwiches.
Moments later, Liz was back excitement written all over her face
‘’My phone, I can’t find it,’’ I said.
‘’Let me check in your bedroom,’’ she said but as she left I said, ‘’But I never went there last night after we came back,’’ I said.
‘’Then if it isn’t here, it must be in the car,’’ Liz said. I remembered I usually kept the phone on the dashboard.
‘’Yes, please check there for me please,’’ I said as I took a sip of the coffee, and a bite of the bacon sandwiches. On any other morning, they would have been refreshing, but today, I was devastated at the thought of losing Mabel.
Moments later, Liz was back excitement written all over her face. ‘’What is it?’’ I asked.
‘’Guess what. You have about five missed calls. All from George.’’ She said as she handed me the phone, I could see her hand was trembling.
Yes… there were in all about seven, not five missed calls. All from George, all made after last midnight.
What was he trying to tell me? Was he calling to inquire about his sister? He must have seen the breaking news. God give me strength, I said as I dialed his number.
‘’Hello,’’ I said weakly as the phone was answered.
‘’Moses… where have you been? I have been trying to get you since last night.’’ said George, his heavy voice tearing into my eardrums.
‘’I am sorry, I had forgotten the phone in the car.’’
There was a long pause on the line
‘’It’s okay. Don’t worry. How are you anyway?’’ he asked and I took a deep breath. Was he preparing to give his consoling message, I wondered.
‘’I’m still in shock. I can’t believe she is gone.’’ I said.
There was a long pause on the line, and I was about to say sorry, believing he was grieving the loss of his only sister.
‘’Moses. It’s okay… there is someone who wants to speak to you here.’’ he said. It must have been his wife, wanting to console me, I thought.
‘’Hello… Moses dear…’’ the voice was unmistakable, and it made my heart lose a beat and literally stop. ‘’Hello, who is this?’’ I found myself asking.
‘’Sorry Moses. It’s me. Mabel.’’ she said.
‘’My God… what? What happened? Where are you?’’
‘’I’m still in Nairobi. I didn’t travel on that vehicle. Don’t worry,’’ she said and I felt a huge wave of relief overshadow me.
‘’Thank God. What happened?’’
She told me how she was mugged on her way to the shuttle. The thugs hit her on the head and she became unconscious. The thugs took everything but good Samaritans had taken her to hospital. She came back to consciousness at 9 pm last night. She didn’t have anything on her.
I did not want to listen anymore. I could not listen anymore. I had to see her. I had to be by her bedside. I disconnected the call and looked at Liz who was staring at me.
‘’Thank God she is alive. She is alive. She wasn’t in that vehicle.’’ I told her.
I must have driven like a mad man
She immediately went down on her knees to pray as I rushed to the bedroom and picked my jacket and came back to the sitting room. I was not even going to take a shower I had to drive to Nairobi right now.
Liz had completed her prayer when I came back. ‘’Where are you going now?’’
‘’Liz. I’m going to the city. I have to be with Liz. She was attacked by thugs and she is at the hospital,’’ I said.
‘’Good gracious!’’ she said. ‘’Would you like me to come with me?’’
‘’No, it’s okay. But you lock up the house as you leave. Let me rush,’’ I said as I rushed out of the house to the car.
I must have driven like a mad man because I kind of blacked out and the car seemed to drive itself the whole trip to Nairobi, arriving two hours later, instead of the usual two and a half.
I drove directly to the hospital, and the reception told me where Mabel Wacu’s bed was. ‘’Are these for sale?’’ I asked the reception, pointing at bouquets of flowers at a table near her. She said yes, and I bought one, then walked to the ward I was directed.
It didn’t take long before I found her. Her brother had left, but Maggie, his wife was here, keeping Mabel company.
They were surprised to see me, though I could see Mabel was also excited to see me.
I went straight to her, handed her the flowers, as we hugged me joyfully.
‘’Hey. Did you drive all the way from Nanyuki?’’ I nodded. ‘’that was fast!’’ Maggie said.
Her eyes twinkling despite the bruise
‘’Well, I had to see Mabel, after the anxiety I had last night, and the fright this morning when I heard about the accident,’’ I said.
‘’I am really sorry sweetheart,’’ said Mabel, her eyes twinkling despite the bruise on her head where the thugs must have hit her.
‘’Shh… ‘’ I said as I placed my index finger on my mouth to quiet her. ‘’First things first,’’ I said as I put my hand in the inside pocket of my jacket, and removed a small box.
As they watched in amazement, I went down on one knee, and opened the box, stretching my hands towards her…
‘’Mabel Wacu, will you marry me?’’
The whole ward with its six beds was stunned. As Mabel looked at the ring unbelievably, her mouth and eyes open wide, then she looked at me as tears formed in her eyes. Maggie could also not help but gape.
‘’Yes… dear Moses. Yes… I will marry me,’’ she said taking my arms and pulling me towards her and kissing me on the cheeks and on the mouth, as the patients in the ward clapped and cheered us on.
I had to make her mine then. The scare of losing her for good was too much.
We were married three months later at a colourful ceremony at St Benedict Catholic Church, not far from their home in Karatina.