On Wednesday you get home from dance class, exhausted, but that is expected. It is not normal, but it is not strange either. That night you get home, and as soon as you walk in, your phone connects to the house WiFi and WhatsApp messages start flooding in. You ignore all of them and make a beeline for the bed. The next day at the gym, you work off the exhaustion. They say the best way to deal with fatigue is to work it off, right? So you hit level 15 on the treadmill, row 500 meters in four and a half minutes, then you go on to the burpees. When you are done, you stand in line behind a girl who is wearing an all Nike outfit; from the headband to the shoes. She has a perfect body, and as you wait, you wonder what such people are doing at the gym. Because in your mind, the gym is like a hospital – you only go when you need to fix something. What is this one fixing?
You wash your throat with two botis of water then you drive home. Everything seems fine – your body is back to default settings. They – whoever they are – must have been right. The medicine for fire is fire. You respond to the messages from the night before.
The next day, you are back. This time the trainer is running tests on you. He says he needs to know your limit before he can recommend a workout. That means, you do just one rep of everything, but until you get to your maximum. That Friday morning, Gathoni – who introduced you to this gym – finds you at the leg press, trying to push 100kgs. You close your eyes, grab the handles on your sides, take a lungful of air and then push. The weight moves a little, but you are running out of juice. You slap your thighs to motivate them. Grit your teeth and then make those constipation noises people make at the gym. Gathoni says, Come on Magunga, you can do it. Collo – your trainer – choruses in with something about you being a man.
You do it.
Then Collo says, Confirm. Skuma tena.
You look at him with go away eyes. What do you mean confirm? What am I confirming? Si you saw with your eyes when I was pressing 100kgs?
Wacha kulialia…we ni mwanaume bana. Confirm, he says.
You try to push again, and this time you can only manage halfway. In part because Gathoni is not around to motivate you. It is easier for a man to fail at things when women are not looking. Collo assists you, but then still marks it as a 100kg leg press.
That day the workout tests are done by 10.30am. Gathoni comes and finds you being taught the techniques of a perfect bodyweight squat. For the longest time, you had imagined that you have done squats training from all the years of using a pit latrine in shagz. Very little can be further from the truth. On the earth, things are dissimilar.
You imagine Gathoni is looking at you the way older students look at Form Ones on their first week in high school – how they are so eager to learn the definition of Chemistry. But just like a mono, you cram the definition of a body squat. Do not use your toes. Heels firm on the ground. Do not let your thighs close. And keep your back straight, goddamit!
It is the final workout. You leave the gym with Gathoni and walk her to her car. You feel your head spinning around, but that is expected. You feel extremely weak, but that is expected too. I mean, it is not normal, but it is not strange either. As you are saying your goodbyes you tell her, aaaaai I am feeling like sijui how. I am feeling cold and hot at the same time.
She says it is definitely the gym effect, that you should hydrate and then eat something. You will be good before the eye of the sun is in the middle of the sky. She drives away.
You sit in your car, but the English is making your head go round and round. You are seeing things two two. And your body still feels like something that God would spit out of his mouth. You are burning up and sweating, but you are cold as well. It is as if someone lit a fireplace inside your stomach and then placed you inside a freezer. You open the door of your car and lean outside to get some air. A mall guard finds you there and asks Where is the problem?
I left it on the 2nd floor, you reply. He looks at you, confused. Nimetoka gym, you say. Then he laughs and walks away.
Before you drive off, you tweet saying I think I may throw up.
Ideally, you’d get home, warm yourself food from last night and then eat while watching something on Showmax. But the way your body has decided with makasiriko, you stop at Mariah’s Kitchen for pork ugali and skuma, before heading home. You eat, try watching a movie, but your head cannot allow storylines to enter. It is now throbbing like it has been paid. You put YouTube and start watching Stephen A exchange words with Max Kellerman about how the Lakers should trade Kyle Kuzma for Devin Booker if they ever hope to win the chip this season. For the first time, you agree with Max that Stephen A is mad.
The food helps, but only a little. The fever comes back. You cover yourself with a blanket and turn around. Soon, you are in a kind of paralytic trance. You can hear the phone ringing but you cannot tell where it is. You want to reach for the remote and turn off the TV, but you cannot move an inch of muscle. You are shivering cold, but sweating at the same time. And it is this indecision that annoys you the most.
So you take off your clothes – all of them – but then cover yourself with the onget. Nakedness will help cool you off and the onget will prevent cold. It doesn’t make sense, I know, but what does anymore?
Babu walks in, without knocking. He never knocks. He lives upstairs. He finds you trying to sleep, and failing terribly. Takes one look at you and declares you have malaria. But you do not want to debate his Google MD practicing certificate, so you let him have it. He says Chamyet is trying to call you na hushiki, ongea na yeye. Then he puts his phone to your ear.
Her voice is on the other side asking How are you feeling?
I will try and take the afternoon off and come see you. Sawa?
Then Babu takes the phone away. Before he leaves, he tries to convince you that this is malaria and even offers to take you to the hospital. You think about the hustle of walking, leave alone the fact that it is January and you cannot afford sickness, and you tell him Hapana, nitakua tu sawa.
Wait, you say before he steps out of the door. Can you bring me a duvet from my bedroom please?
He brings it, spreads it over the other blanket and asks, Uko sure you don’t want to go to the hospital?
Aki hapana, you answer, But thanks.
He comes back, this time with Anyiko. She was around and wanted to say hi. She speaks to you the way people speak to people who they are seeing for mercy. The kind of look that makes you even more sick, sicker than a Kenyan politician who has been denied bail. Ati oooooh, I am so sorry, get better soon. All that time she is woisheing, you are hoping that she won’t need you to get up, because, Nyasachiel, you are still naked thiringingi.
She also gives a second opinion, declaring that you have malaria. And now that a stylist and publicist – the best in their fields, no less – have said that you have malaria, then who are you to refuse that you do not have malaria?
Babu says he will be back to take you to hospital. Then leaves with Anyiko. This time you do not protest. Not because you are naked, but because this feels like something more than just gym fatigue.
He does not come back. And Chamyet who said she will be coming home early also does not. The fever comes in spells all afternoon, and in one of those times when it has gone on a break, you drag yourself from the couch to the bedroom. And swear to God, your bed has never felt so far, you almost wish you could climb a taxi there. That is where Chamyet finds you. You are angry because she said she would be back sooner. Both her and Babu. If there was a time you need words to have meaning, it is when you are sick.
She tries to convince you to go to hosi, but you refuse. Not because you do not want to, but because you are annoyed. You ask her to call someone on your phone for you. Dr. Stella Bosire. But you call her Laste. When she has dialed the number, she puts the phone on your ear and you speak with Laste. She asks What is wrong, and you tell her Everything.
Can you just prescribe something for me, Laste? Staki kuenda hosi.
No, please, just go. All the symptoms point towards malaria, but I do not want to prescribe anything without a haemogram.
A haemo- a blood test, she says. Then she asks to speak to Chamyet.
It is headed towards six something when Chamyet helps you dress and then Babu helps you down the stairs. You cannot descend the flight in twos and threes like you usually do. You have to take them one by one, dragging your feet and holding on to the rail. At the neighborhood shopping center, they want to hold you so that you can walk, and you need them to, but you swat their hands away. You do not want people to know that you are sick, never mind that your eyes are watering and your nose is running, and you are quaking like post orgasm legs. Still, you want to preserve the last of your dignity. Your toxic masculinity will only allow someone to carry you when they are taking you to your grave.
At the pharmacy, they allow you to sit in the doctor’s office. You can hear them on the counter, though, and the dude is asking them irrelevant questions like, Did he travel home for Christmas? And you wonder what the fuck has that got to do with any fucking thing? Inject me with something and let me go home.
You hear Chamyet say that Laste said we do a haemo….a bloodtest. The pharmacist says that if you were in shagz for Christmas, then this is definitely malaria, given the symptoms, and there is really no need for a test. He is ready to prescribe. Chamyet says no. Bloodtest or bust. Pharmacist says he does not have the equipment, but perhaps next time? There is a Hospital on Kandara Road, though, if you want to have the bloodtest. Go down like this, take the second left, then straight then a right. It will be on your left.
At the hospital, they now had to hold you to stand at the reception. The nurse wanted to bring a stretcher, but you tell them not to be dramatic. Still, she runs down the hall and calls two doctors. You are led into an office. You can tell that this used to be a house before they turned it into a medical center. So the doctor’s office is what used to be the master bedroom. There is a desk, and he sits on the other side, in front of a window.
How are you feeling?
Like punching you in the face if you ask me another stupid question. Is what you want to say, but because Chamyet knows how you get, she jumps in and says everything she had heard you tell Laste. About that fever from Wednesday, then today when you came from the gym, then the hot and cold and the headache and the backache and the joints that won’t stop hurting.
They put you on a bed. A woman comes and taps the back of your left hand, swabs it with wet cotton wool, then injects a needle, before pulling out blood into a vial. Then they use the same spot to put you on a drip. And you lay there as a colorless tube transports water from a bottle into your veins. All the while, you hear them talk, the doctor asking if you had recently gone to shagz, and at this point, you want to rip these things from your veins, square up to a motherfucking doctor, and tell them to stop with the shagz.
You are a Luo, through and through. You are born of a man and a woman from Alego who met at a restaurant in nineteen ginene. You grew up in Kisumu, went to school in M.M. Shah, and went to high school in Maranda, located near Nyapietho market, deep inside the anus of Bondo. Your shagz is in Siaya and a piece of your heart was left in Mbita the first time you saw it. You walk and talk like the world owes you an apology. You do not eat fish that does not have bones, and you believe that nobody ever plucked a guitar better than Daniel Owino Misiani.
So what is this nonsense about you going to where you grew up for Christmas and catching malaria, eh? Your entire life, you have never caught malaria. Then you spend a week in Nyanza and all of a sudden the whole medical profession cannot have peace? There is no way your home could have given you malaria, not after 28 years. Kwani which mosquitoes have been biting you your whole life? Ai. Chokeee! What kind of upside-down science are they teaching in universities these days? Or is your name no longer Magunga?
You stay in hospital for what feels like five or so hours, but you weren’t keeping tabs. In the end, they say that indeed it was malaria. Babu and Anyiko were right after all. They give Chamyet drugs for you to swallow after meals. A regimen of 7 pills after meals.
Just before we leave, you ask the nurse what is their problem with you going to shagz. She says they do not have a problem with it. And that you catching malaria does not make you any less of a Luo, same way, never having caught it does not make you any more of one. It is just a matter of biology and resistance. And when you tell her to explain why you became less resistant all of a sudden, she does not answer. Instead she says that, actually, contracting malaria means that you do not have sickle cell anaemia.
So you are saying people who do not get malaria have sickle cell anaemia?
No, she says, laughing. I am not saying that.
You want to ask her what she is saying then, but you do not. These people will give you stories with more twists and turns than a bowl of spaghetti, that will make you feel EnglishEnglish.
She said you do not have sickle cell anaemia, and that is what matters, donge?