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African Writing Archives


Sachdeva Otieno Gaya



Sachdeva Otieno Gaya

Gaya is a medical doctor. He was born in Nairobi in 1975. He was educated in Kenya and Germany and now lives with his wife in Helsinki, Finland, where he practices medicine.


 In This Hope

To our fathers and grandfathers – who had a hard time dealing with a strange new world
– and to whom we owe forgiveness.

With respect and love.

There was something paralyzing about the smoke in the room. Not just the smoke, but the cold mixture it formed with the multi-coloured light that danced in the tavern as well as the stench of sweat and liquor that strangled the air. Jay didn't know why in the world he still came here. He had a family now. And his wife was such a beautiful, tender lady. Why did he still need all this? He was jolted from this 'forbidden' vein of thought by the slightly loud slap of his latest bill on the stained wooden table before him. It was loud enough to bring him back to the present, but gentle enough not to irritate him.

That was the work of a very experienced waitress. Her eyes lingered briefly, haltingly, over his and he thought he caught a look he knew in them. A look of loneliness, unfulfilled dreams, struggle, conflict. Why, they could have been his very own eyes looking back at him. For a brief moment he wanted to reach out and hold her and tell her it was going to be OK. Was she so experienced as to arouse such feelings in him or had he just had one too many again? One thing was certain: It was time to go home.

If only Jay had not been that waitress' last customer that day; and if only she had not been standing so vulnerably at the lonely bus-stop when he drove by. If only he hadn’t stopped and offered to take her home; If only he had just dropped her off at her house and then left to go to his wife and children. If only she hadn’t been so desperately in need of money to feed her two hungry illegitimate children. If only she hadn’t been dying of a strange new disease that she knew nothing about...

Thirty years earlier, Africa was free. The old statesmen of the continent were heroes. The Britons, French, Germans, Belgians and their likes were going home and leaving a neatly divided up territory of new, restless and ambitious ex-colonies. The air was pulsating with hope and haste. And while the grandfathers of a new vibrant continent gallantly took up the reins of the new and naïve nations, the young men enjoyed their fathers´ labours in the pleasures of treasures left behind by their imperial masters. Men learnt to drink whiskey in those days, and ladies learnt to swing and twist in night-clubs.

Such was the lot of post-colonial African high society. Such was the fare of our fathers.

But that was then. Now the once proud and young nations creaked and fell under the rust of corruption and poverty. One by one. Statesmen had turned into paranoid dictators and their young sons were older drunkards. Their wives were oppressed and overwhelmed. The society was staggering and sick. And dying. Dying of a strange new disease.

Now Jay was sitting on a comfortable armchair outside his neat stone house facing the Savannah valley in the little rural district where he had been born almost sixty years ago. He wore an immaculate white shirt and comfortable, flawlessly ironed, sand-coloured khaki trousers. His hair was neatly brushed back and he mused at his shining black leather shoes. His wife had bathed him and dressed him and brushed his hair, and her eyes still glowed the same way they had when he had first met her. Why was she still here even after the betrayal?

The sky beyond the valley looked dark and ominous. The lead-grey rain clouds hung threateningly low over the golden Savannah grassland that was randomly violated by dusty olive-green thickets and bare wound-like patches of orange-red soil. A midget of a herds boy appeared on the horizon, hurriedly shooing his cows back home. The rain was imminent. Dark clouds advanced steadily across the valley, progressively shrouding it in a black mist. They dragged with them a strange foreboding. The scene was fascinating and Jay was riveted to his seat. It wasn’t until an ambitious, thick raindrop landed squarely on his now balding forehead that he awoke from his stupor. He caught a whiff of his wife’s perfumed body lotion as her hands reached out to him to help him up. Where had she come from so suddenly? She had worn that lotion for all the thirty years they had been married. Sometimes he thought he only still survived and thrived upon that warm and familiar fragrance.

The fan rotating from the ceiling was very quiet. It was hard to keep focused on it as it turned and turned and soon became a blur of sterile white plastic and polished wood.

The room smelled sterile. There were distant muffled voices around him. Jay was thoroughly exhausted and his back felt sore. He must have been lying on that bed for a long time. He vaguely remembered an ambulance siren, a frightful bustle in a bright room somewhere, and then this bed. The only constant pervading the jumble in his mind was that fragrance he’d known for thirty years. It had been there with him all the time. He was certain.

When did he get so sick? Where did this terrible sickness come from that was devouring to shreds a continent already so weak? Was it a lusty, gay sailor from another world or a monkey from our trees like they said? And what was going to happen now? He had a calm, peaceful knowledge that he was not going to get up from this bed. Strangely, he was grateful for it. But what then?

Somehow the priest’s visit only increased his fear of ending up in a place of eternal punishment for a lifetime—actually only 60 years—of wrongdoing. And he hadn’t even done wrong every single one of those days in his life. He had taken a few wrong turns, yes. Some of which had led him to this bed. But surely, eternal punishment for 60 years? It didn’t seem to add up.

Then there had been the other gentleman who had come along to see him. He had given God a name, mankind a history and a future. He had made him feel like he came from somewhere and was going somewhere if he believed in this God and His Christ, and called on Him for forgiveness and salvation. Although Jay couldn’t remember when he had, he was somehow sure he had believed and had called on that name. It was his only anchor now.

The fragrance was there again and Jay felt himself pulled back from his mind’s wranglings and strangely led into vivid memories by his wife’s fragrance. Her first smile. The gentle way she straightened his tie before his first ever job interview. Her lying in a clean, neat hospital bed all washed and fresh after their first baby was born. A Saturday afternoon after the chores were done and she sat in a sunny patch on the verandah reading a book. Sunday morning in the little church on the hill, sitting next to her, looking at her and listening to the better sermon that was her life of dedication and commitment to him.

His eyes opened at last and he knew he was smiling up at his wife more kindly and warmly than he ever had done in his life. He saw her smile and held her gentle gaze as his eyes begun to shut once more. He was falling asleep again. Isn’t that what the polite gentleman had called it? Falling asleep? Resting until it was time to get up again when things would be better. A new kingdom. A second chance. In this hope he embraced the sleep.


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