You can learn a lot from just standing or sitting in a queue. When you are forced to queue for hours, the idle chitchat of others in the queue serves as very useful entertainment. If you are next to some conversationalists, and are a keen eavesdropper, you can easily forget the fatigue and impatience of queuing.
This happened to me this morning. I was seated at the hospital’s out-patient lobby, awaiting my turn to see the doctor. Kenyan hospitals are something else when it comes to making patients wait. Perhaps this is a story that needs to be told but I shall reserve it for another day. For today, let me focus on the joys of queuing.
So, I arrived at the hospital and picked a number – they all have queue management systems these days that have made waiting even more unbearable. The ticket tells you that you are number twelve on the list and yet there is no less than twenty minutes spent on each patient. You can therefore find yourself waiting for upwards of four hours.
Anyway, on this day I had brought my earphones with me because I was aware of the agony and torture of a queue. However, ten minutes into my wait, a woman joined the queue and sat on the row in front of me. A few minutes later her phone buzzed and she stood up to have a conversation with the caller. She disappeared for some time and then returned with another lady in tow.
“Haki niliamua nikuje nikukalishe kwa queue,” the lady she came with said.
To be honest, dear reader, I typed that in Swahili because I don’t know if there is an English translation for “Kukalisha.” It could be loosely translated to “help you sit and wait.” So the lady was saying that she had decided to come and help her friend sit and wait in the queue.
“Aki thanks Nadia,” the first woman said. “When you told me you were in the area, I felt relieved. Imagine I am number fourteen on the queue!”
She showed Nadia her ticket.
“These waiting rooms can be boring,” Nadia said. “But yenyewe June when you told me that your stomach aches had not eased, I had said I must come and see you. Thank God you came to hospital.”
“Yeah,” June remarked. “I went to a clinic near home and the doc there said it may be an ulcer. He referred me here for more tests. I hate big hospitals because I have to queue.”
“You will be alright,” Nadia reassured her.
Dear reader, they were seated right in front of me and had turned to face one another such that I could even see the expressions on their faces. I could not help but listen in. I am sure that I wasn’t the only one listening to the conversation. Everyone seated near them was. They weren’t exactly being quiet or discreet.
“So how are you?” June asked Naida.
“Not bad,” Nadia said. “Just stressed out.”
“It’s my siz and my brother in-law,” Nadia shook her head in exasperation. “Those two deserve one another! They are such a thorn in the flesh!”
“Aki woishe,” June was sympathetic. “What have they done this time?”
“I can’t even start!”
“Sorry woishe. But I hope the dowry ceremony went well?”
“Did it even happen?”
“Don’t tell me that it didn’t take off. After all that planning!” June’s eyes were as round as saucers.
“Can you imagine!”
“What happened? The last we talked, you had gone to Biashara Street to search for the kitenge material.”
“Yes. So, as I told you, my siz insisted that we must wear a yellow and blue kitenge print. She even had the sample.”
“Why didn’t she just buy the whole fabric instead of coming with a small sample. Those fabrics move fast. You can see something you like in the morning and by evening it is completely sold out!”
“I know! She was so pissed when we told her that we couldn’t find the print in any shop on Biashara Street or in any Maasai Market!”
Nadia paused and I could clearly see the frustration in her eyes. Her sister must have taken her through hell.
Nadia continued speaking, “Finally after calling stores in Mombasa and Kisumu and not finding the print, my siz insisted that we must go to Kampala to get it. She told us that her husband got the sample in Kinshasa and insisted that that is what we must wear as he had already got an outfit made from that print!”
“Why didn’t he just buy you guys the fabric!” June was exasperated. “It only makes sense to do so.”
“Not all people have common sense. Anyway, I refused to go to Kampala as I had an important work conference coming up. My mum also said that she couldn’t go as she had interviews for some positions in her business scheduled. And, of course, she couldn’t just up and leave my two younger siblings who were home for the holidays.”
“None of my cousins was willing to go at such short notice either as they had committed to other things. We pleaded with siz to choose another fabric that is available in Nairobi but she refused saying that the fabrics found in Nairobi are too cheap and the prints too common.”
“Yep. Anyway, fast forward to a week later and she called us for a family meeting at mum’s house. We all went – my two aunts, two cousins, mum and myself. She presented us with the fabric and told us that we just did not want to support her. She then proceeded to inform us that we had to reimburse her for the fabric and her and hubby’s tickets to Kinshasa coz they had to go all the way to get the correct fabric.”
“You don’t say!”
“The total bill was a hundred and sixty eight thousand shillings for her and her husband’s tickets. Then she proceeded to tell us that the fabric cost three thousand shillings per yard. She had bought four yards per person and we were eight people including my two younger siblings. That was ninety six thousand shillings we owed. She had come with her tailor and insisted that we all get the same strapless design – including my mum and two aunts! We couldn’t believe it. The tailor said that her fee was six thousand shillings per dress. That is now an additional forty eight thousand shillings!”
“She is crazy!”
“Right? She was expecting us to fork out three hundred and twelve thousand shillings at that very moment!”
“Oh my God!”
“My mum refused and siz threw an epic tantrum. My mum said that we would wear clothes that we already had. I tried to meet siz half way and suggested that we pay for the sewing of the dresses only but she should let us get our own tailors who are cheaper. Also, I dared suggest that each of us sew a design that fit their body type.”
“That makes sense.”
“You would think so. But guess what?”
“She got even more pissed – called me a miser, called my mum and aunts fat cows whose bodies are undeserving of high quality fabric and left in a huff, her tailor in tow.”
“She did what? How dare she call your mum a fat cow?” June was as shocked as I was. Our culture did not leave room for anyone to insult an elder person, let alone a parent. The nerve of this so-called siz!
“Was that how the dowry ceremony got cancelled?” June asked.
“No,” Nadia said.
“You mean to say that there is more?”
“There was drama to high heavens!”
June adjusted herself in her seat to face Nadia better and ingest the full flavour of the story. I too adjusted myself, leaning forward comfortably and unabashedly showing interest in what was to come next.
“After two weeks of nil by mouth, my sister’s hubby called mum and told her that he and his people would be arriving for the ceremony two days before the day itself and that my mum should ensure that her lodge is not booked for those days plus the day of the event and the day after the event.”
“Is this the Leopard Rock Lodge or the smaller one?”
“The Leopard Rock.”
“The way it is pricey. I remember we paid seven thousand a night when we went to visit.”
“Yeah. And that was low season. My sister’s function was to be in mid-December – high season. Full board was going for ten thousand shillings a night. Anyway, mum was pleased that he had considered her lodge to accommodate his people. She asked him how many rooms she should reserve.”
“At least they were going to boost her business.”
“You wait and hear the story,” Nadia held her hand up to stop her friend from getting ahead of herself.
“Okay! Okay! I fear to hear what happened!”
“You better fear coz you won’t believe your ears. The guy said that they needed the entire fifty rooms in the lodge coz sijui his friends and colleagues were coming along with his family.”
June rolled her eyes as Nadia continued speaking, “So mum told him it will be hard to cancel for guests who had booked their holidays way in advance. About thirty rooms were already occupied. She asked if his family would take the twenty rooms and his friends and colleagues book nearby hotels.”
“Which is the correct thing to do,” June observed. “She just can’t up and throw out her guests. That is bad for business.”
“My brother-in-law was calm at first as my mum said that she was going ahead to book the twenty rooms but he had to pay a deposit of fifty per cent. For four nights in the twenty rooms, the bill would be eight hundred thousand and she needed him to pay four hundred thousand deposit so that she could make the reservation.”
“That’s a lot of money!”
“True. But my mum is running a business here. She never mixes business with family. You recall that we also had to pay when we went to stay there?”
“Yes. It is always a good policy to maintain your business affairs separate from your family affairs. Your mum is a smart businesswoman.”
There was a pause and then June asked, “Did he send the deposit?”
“Wapi?” Nadia pulled down her bottom eyelid with her forefinger, meaning that no money was ever sent to her mother. “We did not see a single cent and things went even more south from there. My brother-in-law hang up on mum and then the next day my siz called me. She was crying and telling me ati mum hates her, how can mum make her hubby’s people pay to stay at the lodge, blah blah blah.”
“You are not for real,” June interjected.
“Then she told me that she has always suspected that she was adopted or switched at the hospital and that is why mum does not like her. Ati she is the only beautiful one and light skinned one in the family plus she has a good figure not too skinny like me or too plump like our youngest siz. She cried some more and then told me to tell mum to admit that she stole her from the hospital and asked that mum should tell her who her real parents are.”
“Your siz is not okay,” June’s hands were on her head as she displayed her shock at the sister’s words. I too wanted to put my hands on my head in shock but I felt it would be going too far in my eavesdropping.
“Drama, I tell you,” Nadia continued. “I called mum and told her what my sister had said and mum told me that my brother-in-law had also called and said that he was going to the house to see her in the evening to discuss a very important matter. Mum asked me to be present as she didn’t know what the guy might say or do. I took the afternoon off and rushed to mum’s place.”
June was now at the edge of her seat and so was I and others on the queue. I could feel the electric charge in the air as I sensed the story rising to its climax.
“We waited until four o’clock when we heard a car hooting at the gate,” Nadia continued. “The gateman responded and we saw bother-in-law drive in. He parked the car and alighted and my siz also alighted. We were a bit relieved that she was with him. My mum went to the front door to welcome them and I was right behind her. They guy pushed past us and mumbled, ‘Get away from me woman’. I swear I heard him say that!”
“Mungu mmoja! It’s unbelievable! He and my siz got into the living room and mum invited them to sit down. The guy looked around the room sneering and then told my mum that he cannot sit in such a house.”
“How does your mum keep calm?” June was as incensed as I was. “If it were me, I would have slapped the boy a long time ago!”
“I admire mum for her calmness. It comes with being in the business world for many years and dealing with all sorts of egos.”
“So the guy looked around the room and then blurted the reason for is visit without any preamble. He said that he could not pay dowry to my mum because she is a single mother.”
“He went ahead to say that mum had better point him in the direction of our dad and his relaz coz those were the only people he would discuss dowry with. Not my mum or her brothers.”
“You are lying!”
“Haki, those were his exact words. He then said ati he had been lenient with mum but the truth is that he had no respect for a woman who opens her legs to men and gives birth to kids without getting married. He said that mum was a common whore and that those businesses she was flossing with were just payment for common whore services!”
June was on her feet and I was also itching to rise up and express my disbelief. All eyes on the queue were fixed on her. She was almost shouting when she said, “Mako! Mako! Mako! Tell me that is not true Nadia! Haki tell me that the guy did not say those things about his mother-in-law.”
“To this day I wish that I had not been there to witness it. And my sister just sat there playing the victim and rubbing her man’s arm to comfort him as if the things he was uttering were hurting him more than they were hurting mum. I really wanted to strangle them both!”
“You are very calm,” June said pacing in agitatation before taking her seat. “If it was me! Hehehe! That guy would be dead, I swear to God!”
I could see the anger on Nadia’s face as she continued, “Wewe skiza. The guy then went on to tell mum ati he did not want mum and I associating with his wife coz we were bad examples. He said that siz had told him how I am a whore and have slept with hundreds of men and that is why I cannot get married. He then said, ‘My family and I will not be associated with mitumba – used rubbish.’”
“Waa! I hope for your sake that you beat the demons out of both of them! The audacity! ”
“I couldn’t let them get off so easily. Mimi ni nani? I …”
“TICKET NUMBER TWELVE! TICKET NUMBER TWELVE. PLEASE PROCEED TO TRIAGE,” the speaker blared, interrupting my concentration on the story. I had forgotten that I was in a queue.
“TICKET NUMBER TWELVE…” I rose reluctantly and headed to the door marked ‘Triage.’ I really did not want get away from that juicy story and contemplated ceding my position in the queue. I felt very invested in it. Now I would have to live the rest of my days wondering what Nadia did to her sister and her brother-in-law after the guy’s hateful outburst!