By Patrick Ngugi
He was a street urchin, alright, but still a human being, and every medical care possible should be given to him, I thought as I hurriedly pushed the trolley carrying the tiny unconscious body of Shady Kim into the emergency ward of Adams Arcade Medical Centre, with his friend Otish, following us closely.
By God’s grace, I knew someone here, and I guessed little Kim would be attended to immediately.
And I was lucky that Dr Justin Kiratu had not clocked off, despite it being after 6 pm, a whole hour after his closing time. He met us along the corridor, and on seeing me madly pushing the trolley, he briefly stopped us to inquire what the problem was. How could a whole parish priest of St Raphael of Angels be pushing a trolley?
“Hey Fr Kironjo,” what’s happening? Asked Dr Kiratu, as he literally took over the trolley, started pushing it, as Otish and I followed him breathlessly.
“An accident,” I said panting. “I knocked down this young man as he crossed the road near the church. I’m not sure if he is serious, but we did not want to take chances,” I said.
“Okay, let’s take him to the observation room,” he said as he pushed the trolley, and I followed him, with Otish trudging along. But as we reached the door to the examination room, Dr Kiratu stopped briefly and looked at me. “Please wait here for a few minutes, I shall be back after having a look at him,” he said.
I sighed a sigh of relief, and turned around to check if there was a place I could sit down. There was a bench, a few metres away along the wide corridor. I walked there, as Otish followed me.
“Is he going to die?” Otish asked, concern written all over his young worried and shocked face.
“I hope not. We just have to pray for the best,” I said, as I clung to those words. It is as if I was consoling myself and not the little boy.
Just by looking at Otish, now huddled himself on the bench, holding his knees by both his arms in form of a hug, I could tell that he and Shady Kim were very close friends, and he was worried sick about him.
It was fast growing dark though it was only 6.20pm. I felt a shiver run up my spine, when the thought that I could have killed an innocent street kid came to my mind.
“Are you feeling cold?” I asked Otish, to keep my mind from worry.
“Yes,” he said looking up at me beseechingly. I was wearing a heavy jacket under my cassock and I felt pretty warm. So I removed the jacket and covered Otish over his shoulders. He smiled at me sheepishly and said, “Thank you Pastor,”
“Say Father Kironjo, not pastor, okay?”
“Okay Father,” he said. “Will you pray so that God heals my friend?” Otish asked, and I felt touched.
I asked him to close his eyes, and we said a brief prayer.
Otish, and Kim did not seem to be anything more than 8 years old.
The two were among the scores of kids from Ting’ong’o Slum who used to come to play ball at Immaculate Conception Primary School sports ground, not far from St Raphael of Angels Parish, Ting’ong’o; where I had been appointed the father-in-charge only two weeks earlier.
Most of these kids did not go to school, not because their parents could not afford, but because their parents never even cared. Most of the parents were single mothers whose husbands had either abandoned them for one reason or the other, and if the women were not engaged in prostitution, they earned their living through brewing illicit liquor.
Since coming to Ting’ong’o Parish I had ventured into the slum but I had heard enough stories that could either scare you or make you shed a tear.
This evening I was on my way back to the Parish after visiting a sick parishioner when my phone rang. The screen showed that it was the bishop’s office calling. As I went to pick the call, suddenly there was this boy running across the road in front of me, following a ball that had been kicked from the other side.
I tried my best to avoid hitting him to no avail, and the slightly wet tarmac from the late afternoon drizzle would not help. I hit the poor soul and his little body somersaulted, hitting the bonnet and landing on the tarmac. I hoped I had not broken any of his bones.
With my heart thumping hard and fast, I came out of the car after stopping a few metres from the impact. The crowd of jua kali artisans, bodaboda operators charcoal sellers and mama mbogas gathered around, some agitating and calling for mob justice to be meted on the killer of the innocent child.
I could hear some wild shouts calling for the burning of the car, and my lynching. I crossed myself and said a silent prayer and as if by miracle, I heard a little boy shout. “Ni Pastor. Ni pastor!”
It was Otish, who had somehow recognized me, as the ‘pastor’. The maddening crowd suddenly cooled down and all our attention turned to the boy I had hit, whose body lay on the side of the road. He was bleeding on the forehead and nostril.
“Umemuua!?” it was more of a shout than a question from one hefty shaking bodaboda rider.
“Ngai… Ni Kim! Wameua Kim!” a woman who seemed drunk from something said and then she screamed.
“He is not dead,” said a man whom I thought could be a carpenter. He wore a brown overall and a pencil was stuck on one of his ears.
“He is still breathing,” the man said, then turned, looking at me.
“Father Kironjo; you don’t know me, but I know you. I’m one of your parishioners. The boy is still alive, but he will need urgent medical attention. Can you take him to hospital? Maybe then you can make a report at the police station?” he inquired, and I thought it was a good idea.
“So can one of you volunteer to go with me?” I asked since we would need someone to help me and also be a witness.”
The crowd seemed uninterested, and began to go back to their businesses. Their bloodthirsty anger of a few minutes ago evaporating. Then Otish said, “Pastor, I will go with you,” he said wide eyed.
“Okey, let’s carry Kim and put into the car,” I told him.
I took Kim, carrying him to the backseat of the car. Placed him comfortably and in a way he wouldn’t fall, closed the door and asked Otish to open the front passenger door, and enter.
“And make sure you bring them back. Alive,” said the drunken woman. “I must go and report this to Mama Kim,” she said.
Yeah, I thought, Kim’s mother should know. At least this woman was thinking straight, even though she was drunk.
“Do you know that woman?” I had asked Otish as we drove off.
“Mama Katoi,” he said.
“Mama Katoi?” I asked, wondering what kind of a name that was.
“Yes, our neighbour.”
“Is she always drunk? Like this?” I asked.
“Yes.” Otish said nonchalantly. It was as if he was used to see her like this, and a woman getting drunk wasn’t a big deal.
I wanted to ask lots of questions, but we had to rush Kim to hospital. Maybe I would know more about them later.
“Here is the doctor coming back,” Otish said, nudging me from my thoughts. I looked up, and yes, there was doctor Kiratu. He looked expressionless, though there was something in his eyes that told me that things were not bad.
“How is he?” I asked.
“He is lucky. Just a knock on the head and a bruise on the arm. He is not serious. I’ve given him some sedatives. He can go home, he doesn’t need to be admitted,” said the doctor.
I breathed a sigh of relief and looked at Otish, who was smiling ear to ear. He grinned, and said, “Pastor Father, thank you for praying for my friend!”
“We should thank God for that,” I said and turned to Dr Kiratu, who was amused by Otish’s comment.
“So we can take him back now?” I asked.
“Yes, but he is still asleep. Perhaps we can check on him in 30 minutes. I think he will be fine.” the doctor said and left.
I took Otish for a snack at the hospital cafeteria as we waited for Kim to wake up.
During that time we had the snack I learnt from Otish, much more about Kim. He was from a single parent, and Otish did not know exactly what Kim’s mother did for a living, but she was not making chang’aa like some other women. However he mentioned that most of the time Kim’s mother never spent nights at home, and that she sometimes brought different men to the house, which annoyed Kim but he could do nothing about it.
“Sometimes he sleeps hungry when his mother does not come back, and sometimes I steal food from our house to take to him,” Otish said making my heart sink with empathy.
How could I tell him that stealing was a sin, while he was doing this to help a friend? Surely, God worked in mysterious ways.
It was possible that the tiny Kim had been playing on a hungry stomach when he got hit by the car, I thought.
I must speak to this woman. She must change her ways. If she did not have a proper job to do, perhaps I could offer her something to do at the parish, I thought.
Before long, we went back to the observation room, where we were told we could now take Kim, who had now woken up and ready to go home. He had a bandage around his head and a sling on his left arm. To my surprise, he was not in pain, and he smiled ear to ear when he saw his friend Otish and me.
I paid the necessary fee for medication and consultation before we left.
It was now heading to 8.30pm as we drove towards Ting’ong’o slums, where I intended to drop the two boys, and if possible see Kim’s mother, and give her a piece of my mind.
The neighbourhood of Ting’ong’o slum was dark, and the massive masts of the floodlights that had been put up by the council to keep away muggers and other criminals away were no longer lit due to vandalism. However, they still shamelessly stood proud against the dark background, looking as menacing as the skeletons of Mutheca Itu ogre of the old folk tales.
I felt adrenalin rushing through my body and the hair behind my neck stand as the headlights of my Toyota Harrier tore through the thick darkness of the slum, with stray cats and dogs chasing each other, and men and women apparently to and from daily chores rushing to and or back to their houses. I could also see young twilight girls, dressed to kill, ready to start their night rendezvous.
‘It is here, we have arrived at Kim’s house,’ said Otish, suddenly bringing me back to the current.
I slowed down the car and stopped. ‘Where is it?” I asked looking around.
‘That house,’ said Kim, speaking for the first time since we left the hospital. That gave me hope that he would completely recover. I looked in the direction that he was pointing, and saw a ramshackle of a shed that was leaning on one side, as if it would topple over in a few hours’ time.
‘You live there?” I asked, hoping that it wasn’t so.
‘Yes, he said,’ nodding. I looked at the house again. How could he live here, I wondered. There were no lights inside the house, which meant his mother might not be here.
‘We can go to our house with him because his mother is not in.’ Otish said, his angelic eyes shining in the darkness of the car. I looked at Kim. He stared back at me, his face expressionless.
‘Is that okay Kim?”I asked.
‘Yes father,’ he nodded, ‘it’s okay, I will stay with my friend until mother comes,’ he said.
But some emotion in me was against this. He needed special care, and because I was somehow responsible for his accident, I thought I should take care of him. There was one empty room at the house used by our catechist. I could take him there and ask Johannes, the catechist to take care of him.
‘No, I will take care of him at the church until his mother comes back,’ I said. Then I told Otish, ‘please go tell your parents to come, I’d like to tell them that I will keep Kim tonight, so that they can inform his mother so that she doesn’t get worried when she comes back.’
I saw him hesitate a bit, and then he said, ‘Pastor,’
‘Its ‘Father,’ not pastor,’ Kim corrected, and I got amused.
‘Yes, father, I would also like to come with you so that I can look after him too.’
I felt really touched by this little boy’s love for his friend.
‘Why not, if your parents agree, we can go together.’
And the parents did not object. In fact they seemed too eager to let me take Otish with me, it was as if I would be doing them a great favor. So we left for the parish and after supper, I asked Johannes to prepare the empty room for them, and also give Kim the required medication.
After the morning mass the next day, I asked Manasse the cook, how the boys were doing.
‘They are fine, they are having their breakfast at the kitchen’, he said.
‘Let them come here,’ I said. ‘Let them join me for breakfast,’ I said.
Shortly the boys arrived, their eyes beaming and smiling ear to ear. The catechist had done a good job in finding them newer clothes, from among those that had been donated by the Christians for needy kids. And Kim and Otish were needy.
‘You look fantastic,’ I told them and they smiled back and said something in appreciation of my compliments.
Their cups of half taken tea were brought by the cook and placed on the table, and I asked them to help themselves with pieces of chapati that were still untouched on the table.
‘How are you feeling now?” I asked Kim.
‘I’m feeling better father,’ he said with a smile. ‘Thank you,’ he added.
We had a long chat with the two boys, who told me that they never attended school despite education being free these days, just because their parents could not afford school uniform.
‘So what do you do the whole day?” I asked.
‘Nothing,’ Otish said.
‘But, you can never do ‘nothing’. There must be some way you spend the whole day while your age mates are at school.’
‘We just hang around, maybe collect plastic bottles to sell them at the recycling plant,’ he said.
It was not really a recycling plant, but a collector who paid them peanuts for every plastic they brought, and he delivered in kilos for a hefty amount of money to the real recyclers. I looked at the two boys and felt pity for them. Very soon, if not already, these boys would be filling those bottles with gum, and they would start sniffing it.
Eventually they would upgrade to bhang and hard drugs like cocaine. I had to do something urgently. I had to rescue them, and perhaps build a special class at our church school for such boys.
‘Sometimes we are sent to the streets to beg,’ Kim said, bringing me back from my thoughts.
I guess they were many like them, who would need help.
‘How would you like to go back to school?” I asked.
‘We would like it very much,’ said Otish, his eyes twinkling, as Kim nodded vigorously, his still bandaged head making him look like a Mukurino who had been possessed.
‘But we have no uniform,’ Kim said.
‘it’s okay. I shall buy you the uniform and books. If your parents agree, I’m going to get you a place at Angel Raphael primary school. The church school.’
‘Wow. But who will pay for us?”’ Otish asked.
‘Don’t worry. The church will pay. Do not worry?”.
I was engulfed with emotions when the two boys left their chairs and came around the table and hugged me concurrently. ‘Thank you father,’ they said in unison.
Before long, they had finished their breakfast and had to leave to their homes to break the news, as I went to the church office to see parishioners with their various needs.
The catechist offered to escort them to their homes to help them deliver the message, and also suggest to parents that the boys should start taking catechism classes.
I was busy in the office about an hour later when the secretary MaryJames knocked the door and came in, excitement written all over her face.
‘Father, there are some visitors for you.’
I did not want to spoil the surprise, so I said casually, ‘let them in,’ as I cleared my desk.
She left and a few seconds later the door opened and in burst Otish and Kim. They were smiling like the cat that ate the canary.
‘What now?” I asked, ‘I thought you guys had gone home.’
‘Yes we did, but we are back. Our parents wanted to speak to you,’ Kim said.
‘Your parents? Where are they?”
Instead of answering, they came further into the office, and behind them came two women. I did not have to look at them twice; neither did I need an introduction. They were Otish and Kim’s mothers.
‘Welcome ladies,’ I said as I stood up and asked to sit down on the visitors’ seat next to my desk.
They first looked uncomfortable, but I made them feel at home.
I guess you are Otish’s mother?” I said looking at the dark complexioned woman.
‘Yes, I am,’ she said,’ then I turned to look at the other woman. She was of light skin, but it looked weather beaten from over application of make ups. Her eyes seemed a bit sunken, and she generally looked like alcohol had taken better of her. She must be Kim’s mother, the prostitute, I thought.
But her eyes… her eyes were looking at me keenly. I did not know why, but she had started weeping. Could it because of the good deed I had offered for their boys?”
I felt a bit uncomfortable with her crying in the office, and Otish’s mother tried to comfort her. ‘It’s okay Miriam, it’s okay… all is well,’ Otish’s mother said.
I could not stand to see the boys watch her cry, so I stood up and asked them to wait outside, or look for something to do meanwhile.
After I closed the door, I came back and sat down. She had stopped crying. She took a handkerchief from her handbag and wiped her tears off.
‘it’s okay,’ Otish’s mother said. ‘She gets emotional sometimes, even when she is happy,’ she said.
I looked at Miriam and said. ‘Do not worry madam. Your son will get the education he deserves, and I am sorry for the accident,’ I added remembering what had brought all this.
Miriam looked at me again, her eyes glittering behind the tears. Then my heart stopped.
Miriam… oh my God, is it you?” is all I could say.
I could not believe that I was looking at Miriam Kidoto. Gosh… all those years where had she been? Miriam Kidoto, my ex-and last girlfriend before I went to the seminary to study priesthood 10 years ago.
‘So you remember me, Javan Kironjo … it’s a long time, but as they say, only mountains don’t meet.’
‘Miriam… oh God, I said as I stood up and walked around the table and held her hands. She stood up and we hugged, hard and long… I did not care if she was a prostitute and even an alcoholic.
‘So you two know each other?” a mesmerized Mama Otish asked.
END OF PART ONE.
GET PART TWO HERE.