It’s funny how humans take things for granted.
You wake up to the sound of a blaring alarm and cuss at your ceiling because it’s somehow that white board’s fault that you are up at 6:00 am in the morning to prep for a job you hate. You drag your feet to the bathroom with heavy eyes and a yawn forming in your throat and pat blindly in your cabinet for your toothbrush. After you find it you shove it in your mouth and start moving your hand in a mechanical motion only to notice that your toothbrush is tasteless. It then hits you, you haven’t applied toothpaste on the bristles of your mouth cleaner and you feel like a complete fool. You pat around again in your cabinet and after a while, a light bulb goes on in your head.
You chucked the housing of the toothpaste yesterday.
Or was it the day before that?
You shrug and rinse your mouth. You’re more awake now. You make a mental note to get toothpaste at the shop later. You walk into your shower fully clothed, rubbing your fingers and muttering about your poor memory.
You reach out to the shower nozzle and mechanically turn it clockwise. What follows is instant, horrific, and downright mean. You blink twice then thrice then multiple times while cussing at the ceiling. You strip while in the shower, tossing the wet clothes through your shower curtain. You then remind yourself that you are a man. Men shower with cold water. It’s healthier, makes you more potent. Hadn’t you read somewhere that it increases your sperm count?
You take a deep breath and cuss at the ceiling before standing below the shower head. You turn the shower clockwise and stand still as the drops of water make contact with your skin. You decide after a few seconds that it’s not so bad. That you don’t need a hot shower anyway.
Later, you stare at your closet and ponder over your life choices. Hadn’t your buddy offered to set you up with some nice chick from Buruburu? Didn’t that girl from the office tell you she liked your tie? Hadn’t your mother tried to set you up with Ciku the last time you were home for Christmas? Then why were you here struggling to find a decent shirt to wear to work?
Shaking your head you pick a random shirt, raise its collar and see a faint brown line running across it. You shrug and figure that you could hide it, after all, it’s the nape of your neck. Plus you are tall. Whoever would spot it would be a certified creep or well, really tall.
You glance at the clock, 6:30 am. You will drink coffee at the office. Maybe grab something at 10:00 am from the restaurant across the street. As you leave your house, you stare around briefly before dashing to check whether the gas nozzle is nice and tight.
You laugh at yourself as you exit your building. You haven’t cooked for almost a year.
There is a loud ringing in your ear that you can’t shake. It seems to grow louder when you lift your head so you keep it low hoping that the horrifying sound will notice your submission and be merciful. You hear someone calling out to you. It’s distant but it’s there. Incessant even. Yet you still keep your head low, afraid to anger the sound that would probably be your undoing.
Someone pats you on your shoulder. You raise your head and squint at them. They tell you to follow them. Funny enough when you stand, the ringing vanishes. You take note of that, you might need it later. Your patter is a short, dark-skinned nurse who says “you know” a lot. You smile politely as she speaks. You are hoping there won’t be a quiz after.
You finally arrive at your destination. The nurse opens the door to reveal a tall, grim-looking doctor. He instantly reminds you of the grim reaper. Your eyes flicker at his hands. When you don’t see a large scythe, you release a sigh. The nurse leaves. The doctor tilts his head and points at a chair. As you walk towards it you fiddle with your shirt collar. You glance at him, curious if he spotted the brown line.
As you sit down the ringing returns. Heavy, overbearing, maddening. The doctor is moving his mouth but you cannot hear a word he says. You lift your hands to your ears and cover them. You close your eyes and lower your head. The ringing becomes manageable and before long you can hear the doctor again.
“Mr. Mwau, are you alright?”
You squint your eyes at him and wonder whether he has received many healthy patients in his office. You recall he is the grim reaper and decide not to voice your thoughts. You offer him a tight smile instead.
“Do you recall what led to you fainting?”
Your eyes find the floor. You notice how insanely clean it is. You wonder about the janitor. You feel pity. Then you feel awful for feeling pity. Hadn’t you heard at the bar once of a millionaire janitor? What was his name? Robert? Donald? Wait, it was Ronald. Your guilt morphs into jealousy. You scoff at your feelings and decide you must be going mad. Whoever feels jealous of a dead man?
You clear your throat. You realize you are stalling. You do not want to be here. You do not want Dr. Grim Reaper to examine you. You bite back a laugh at the thought. You imagine the grim reaper in a doctor’s coat. Hilarious. Would be a good character for a children’s book.
“I was at a restaurant. I ordered a sandwich. Didn’t get to eat it though.”
Dr. Grim Reaper squints at you.
You wonder where he got his degree.
“I fainted. When I woke up I was here on a bed. A nurse told me that beds were for sick patients and that I looked fine.”
Dr. Grim Reaper smiles. You decide he has two faces and that you prefer this one.
“Have you felt out of the ordinary? Physically?”
You shake your head.
“So you haven’t fainted or had migraines before?”
You shake your head. The smile vanishes. You instantly miss it.
“We will run tests. We will find out what’s wrong with you.”
You squint at him. You wonder why he said that statement so grimly. Hadn’t he read that missing a meal can cause you to faint?
You are having a staring contest with your phone and you wonder if you would have won had the device had eyes. You laugh at the absurdity but the sound is hollow and clipped. You clear your throat and resume your staring contest. You called in sick earlier even though you felt perfectly normal. Since you were up at 6 am like clockwork you decided to go to the shop and buy toothpaste. You even got a loaf of bread and coffee sachets. Your mouth had widened in disbelief as the shopkeeper asked you for 75 shillings. You had almost called him a thief. But you decided that he wasn’t the thief. You knew who the thief was.
The phone rings and you jump. Your trembling hands reach for it. You look at the screen and see a heart emoji. You click your tongue. It’s your mother.
You tilt your head to the side. Could it be true? Did mothers really know everything?
“Your cousin told me you’re sick.”
You grit your teeth and make a mental note to quit your job. You make a mental note to actually follow through with this note.
“It’s just something I ate. I’m fine.”
“Something you ate made you faint?”
You make a mental note to kill your cousin.
“It was nothing serious. I’m fine.”
You hear a whimper then a sob. You brace yourself for the mantra.
“You are my only son. If anything ever happened to you…”
You smile despite being used to these words.
“I’m fine Mum.”
You hesitate and add.
“I love you.”
You hear a sigh then a light laugh. You know she is calm.
“I love you too, my son.”
She hangs up. You sigh and wonder whether the heaviness in your chest is guilt or dread or both. The phone rings again, this time it’s a phone number. You gulp and answer it.
You wake up and stare at the clock. It’s 10:00 am. Sunlight washes over your room. You realize you slept with the drapes open. You sit in your bed and close your eyes. You try to pray but you realize you don’t know what to say. You grab your phone and head for the bathroom.
You open your Spotify and play the first song on your list. Bien’s voice fills the silent room. You start swaying to it and open the cabinet. You reach for your toothbrush and toothpaste. You squeeze the housing of the toothpaste and watch as the paste emerges from the tube. You smile and wonder who invented such a thing. You are about to make a mental note to google it later but you decide against it, you pick up your phone and go online. You bob your head at the highlighted part of the information. You decide that it’s fitting for the inventor’s name to be Washington Wentworth. It would have been a shame if the man had died unremarkable, unremembered.
You go back to swaying to Bien’s voice and place the toothbrush on your front teeth. You stare at your reflection as you do the activity. You do it slowly, gently. You realize you enjoy the bitter but familiar taste of toothpaste.
A few minutes later you are standing naked in your shower. You turn the shower nozzle on and smile as warm water hits your face. You take your time, turning this way and that way, laughing when the water accidentally goes through your nose. You open your mouth and fill it with water. You wonder why people are so against drinking shower water. Wasn’t it like tap water? You gurgle the warm water and then swallow it.
Later you find yourself in the kitchen staring at your gas cooker. You glance at the bread in front of you and the whisked eggs. You feel like something is missing so you grab a carrier bag and dash out of your apartment.
When you are at the shop buying cooking oil you realize that you hadn’t checked for a gas leak. You smile.
You sit on the bench and watch as people pass you. You realize how alike they all look. While everyone has their own unique fashion sense, you notice that they all have similar expressions. You smile realizing you must have carried the same expression as well.
Entitled. They all look entitled.
Someone sits next to you. He is tall and instinctively you reach for your collar. Your hand stops midway, however. You did laundry yesterday. For the first time in five years, you have not been too busy to do laundry or cook or shop. For the first time in five years, hell more than five years, you had sat down and thought about what you wanted to do. Not your boss. Not society. Not your mother. No, you.
And now you had a list, a bucket list.
You fumble with the piece of paper. It has become familiar to you. You had not let go of it since Wednesday morning. You recall how Dr. Grim Reaper had delivered the news. His voice had been set in a monotone. You had decided to picture him smiling while delivering the news. You had preferred it that way. Less grim.
Stage four cancer he had said. Tumor. He had asked if you had migraines often. You had chuckled at the question remembering how often you had swallowed Panadol and cussed your boss for stressing you out. He had asked you if you had experienced a loss of appetite. You had laughed that time. Remembering the skipped meals. How you had not cooked for months. He asked more questions but the ringing had returned. Loud, heavy, overbearing. You had hung up, grabbed a paper, and started writing.
You open the crumpled piece of paper and go over your list.
1) Wake up at 10 am.
2)Brush your teeth every day.
3) Shower with warm water.
3) Cook four meals per day.
4) Go for evening walks.
5) Go on a date.
6) Do laundry.
7) Call your mother every day.
8) Quit your job.
9) Go shopping.
You smile at the list and decide that it is a rather sad list. The items on the list seem mundane yet they are not. You lift your head and stare at people as they pass by. You decide that most of them have not done the things on your list for a long time.
You decide that you were wrong. It isn’t funny how people took things for granted. It is sad.
You reach into your pocket and retrieve a pen. You add a number 10 to your list.
And just for kicks, you add 11.
11) Live on your own terms like Ronald the Janitor. Children’s books maybe?
Image: Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash remix