By Patrick Ngugi, Kabete, Kenya
He opened his eyes, and this time the lights scorched his eyes. He let out a sharp scream and shut them tightly. He tried to lift his hands to cover his eyes but was unable. The hands were too heavy.
Then, as full consciousness oozed into his body, Justin felt the tubes and pads that were attached to his body. This confused him further, and he opened his eyes, this time gradually, to find out where the hell he was and what was happening to him. He was surprised to see himself in a hospital bed, with intravenous tubes running from his right arm into a hanging bottle above his head.
His head was heavy, and this time managing to move his free hand, he touched his forehead, feeling the bandage that ran around his head. What the hell is this, he wondered. How long have I been here, he asked but there was no one to answer him. He looked around. He was the only person in this fifteen by ten feet room, which had all the gadgets and paraphernalia that a hospital room would have.
‘’Hello, so you are finally awake!’’ a woman’s voice said. He could not turn to see who it was, as his neck felt stiff, but the woman came around. She had a soft smile and wore a nurse’s uniform, and Justin felt rather relieved. At least there was someone here who could explain to him what this was all about.
Melvina had cried for most of the three weeks Justin had gone missing. The rosary was her constant companion, and she would regularly say a prayer for Justin’s safety, wherever he was. She refused to listen to any information or suggestions that he could be dead.
The morning after she had seen him off, she had seen his missed calls which he had tried to make the previous night, and she had tried to call him but the call wouldn’t go through. She had brushed it aside believing that Justin would call back as soon as he saw her call.
But after an hour she had wondered why he had not done so. She tried again, but this time the line was dead.
It’s only after she arrived at the office that morning when confirmation came in that all was not well.
Then the devastating breaking news came in
It started with a call from Mr Mulumba from Mombasa, calling to confirm whether Justin had actually left for Mombasa, because he hadn’t arrived at the office as expected, and neither was he receiving his calls.
Then the devastating breaking news came in. The bus he had been traveling in had been involved in an fatal accident, when it hit a tanker, rolled several times down a valley and finally burst into flames, killing everyone aboard.
From then on everything had gone haywire. The initial shock sent her into a daze. She could not comprehend what she was hearing people say, watching on TV, or reading in the newspapers. She went into denial. No. Justin could not be dead. Something was terribly wrong.
Finally the official report said all the 33 passengers in that bus perished, and the bus company produced the passenger manifest which confirmed Justin was one of the passengers. None survived the crash and only ashes and pieces of bodies were found at the crash site.
As colleagues and staff at Mauzo Financial Securities joined Justin’s family in mourning, Melvina was in a world of her own, living in denial, and believing that Justin was still alive, despite the glaring evidence. One day, he would come back to her. She held fast to this belief, because she feared she would die in devastation if she believed otherwise.
She did not even attend the memorial service that was held a week later, preferring to stay at home as her colleagues joined the family at the All Prophets of God Church in the city centre.
What happened to me?
‘’How long have I been here?’’ he asked immediately the nurse told him that he was in a mission hospital, 15 miles from Masimba.
‘’About a couple of weeks. You have been in a coma on and off,’’ she spoke softly to avoid alarming him.”
‘’What happened to me?’’ he asked staring at his birth mark on the back of his right hand. For some reason it looked brighter than it was before, distinctly showing an image of a butterfly.
‘’No one really knows for sure, but the person who brought you here says she found you unconscious on the road side. Apparently you had been attacked, beaten and left for the dead. Your clothes were torn, and you had a wound on your head,’’ she said.
Justin touched his bandaged head, wondering, ‘’What really happened?’’ but he could not remember.
‘’Do you know where you were going, or where you came from? You see your attackers took everything, we even do not know who you are. There were no identification documents,’’ the nurse said.
He stared at the ceiling, trying hard to remember. To remember who exactly he was, and where he had been going, and who and why had attacked him. He stared at the butterfly on the back of his hand wondering how the birthmark seemed to colorful today, and then closed his eyes and fell back to sleep.
The nurse took his pulse and temperature. They were normal. She then left him to rest. Perhaps he would be able to recall about himself when he woke up later.
Margareta visited the hospital again
‘’How is the patient today?” Margarita Cook, a local private school director asked Nurse Wilfreda later that afternoon.
‘’He has regained consciousness. He is even talking today, only that he has not regained memory,’’ the nurse said.
‘’That is great. I’m sure he will do so very soon, then he will be able to tell us who he is and where he came from,’’ Margareta, said.
She was the one who about two weeks earlier had found Justin unconscious on the side of the road as she drove from the school towards the shopping centre for school provisions.
After taking him to the hospital, she had reported the incident to the local police post and the local administration about the incident but nothing had been done.
About two hour later, Margareta visited the hospital again and she was pleasantly surprised when she found Justin was now awake, and had fully regained his memory. He told them how their bus broke down, and he and other passengers had been waiting for it to be repaired, when a woman offered him some coffee. He could not remember anything after that, because he must have been drugged.
‘’You must have started regaining consciousness while the thugs were robbing you, no wonder the wound on your head,’’ the nurse said.
‘’You mean I have been here a whole two weeks… My people must be worried. I have to call them,’’ he said anxiously.
Give us a number we can call,’’ said Wilfreda, retrieving her mobile phone from her pocket.
Absent mindedly, Justin had looked around for his phone, and Ms Cook realized what he was looking for.
He dispatched a company car immediately
‘’Sorry, but your phone was stolen with everything else you might have had,’’ she told him. Justin looked stunned… The laptop, the camera, personal and office documents, all gone…
‘’What!?‘’ he said.
‘’Sorry about that but you have to give us a number from memory. He hadn’t memorized any number of his family members, but he was glad he knew the office number by heart, so he gave it to Nurse Wilfreda, and told her to ask for Melvina.
At first everyone in the office thought she was hallucinating. How, how could Justin be alive, while everyone knew he had perished with other passengers, three weeks back? No this was a crude joke someone must have been playing a crude prank on her… Even Mr Kipeso, her boss could not believe it when Melvina told him and he only believed when he returned Nurse Wilfreda’s call and spoke to Justin himself.
He dispatched a company car immediately to collect him and bring him back to Robinia. An excited Melvine was in that car. They also called Justin’s elder Sister who worked in town to accompany them and experience the joy of meeting her brother who had miraculously cheated death.
And as if she had not cried enough all through the previous fortnight or so, Melvina cried for joy the moment she saw him lying there on the hospital bed. She hugged and kissed him on the mouth and cheek, her tears dripping on his bandaged head and some on the hospital gown and linen, as everyone looked on mesmerized.
I just don’t know… I just felt it
Then when she was somehow done, it was the turn of Jacinta his sister, who though less emotional than Melvina, also hugged her brother and wiped her tears as she told him how the family had eventually accepted that he had died, and were actually planning for a symbolic burial where they would bury a banana plant, since his body had not been found.
‘’We thought your body was now in ashes in that wreckage, ‘’ she said tearfully.
‘’Everything is fine now as you can see, I am now okay,’’ Justin said.
One Saturday afternoon, about a month later, Melvina and Justin sat at a poolside at THE ANGAZA hotel outside Robinia. The soft wind from the hills in the horizon was crisp and invigorating.
Justin looked at Melvina and smiled, picked his juice took a sip, placed the glass on the table, then asked, ‘’what made you so sure that I was still alive? I might as well have been in that bus, you know…’’
‘’I just don’t know… I just felt it. I just had this strong feeling that you were alive. It did not need explaining, though I could not understand how you would have saved yourself from that inferno in the bus. It’s an irony that the thugs who attacked you and stole your stuff actually saved you,’’ she said.
‘’It’s one of those things you can’t understand,’’ he said, then he looked at the waiter, who had just brought their bill, and left. Justin took the bill and placed it on the table after studying it.
Then as if he wanted to confirm the amount, he took a pen from his pocket, turned the bill and scribbled something. Then he looked at what he had written for a long time with a puzzle in his face.
‘’What’s wrong?’’ Melvina asked.
‘’I don’t know… but I’ve just remembered something…’’
I really don’t know, I m really confused
‘’What?” she asked moving closer and looking at what he had written. The word ZEN was on the sheet of paper.
“What is this?’’
‘’I don’t know, the word just popped into my head… I think this word also appeared to me while I was in a coma. I keep on thinking about that word; what it could mean, but I just can’t crack it.’’
“What could it mean, really?’’ she asked concerned. ‘’Could it be a name you heard while they attacked you?’’
“I really don’t know, I m really confused”.
Then she almost screamed…’’Gosh… And look at your birthmark… It’s so bright and clear… Wow it’s a butterfly… how did it happen? I remember it was previously just one dull shade!’’ Melvina said.
‘’Honey… I don’t know… I just found it this way when I was at the hospital.’’
‘’This is incredible…’’ she said staring and examining the image… ’’Do you know it does not look like a birthmark anymore… It’s more like a tattoo!’’ she explained.
‘’Yeah… so I notice, but how did it change?’’ He asked.
After a long while, she broke the silence and said… ‘’a miracle… a miracle must have happened while you are away… and that word ZEN… It’s got something to do with it,’’ she said thoughtfully.
‘’Like what?’’ he asked.
She thought for some time, and then looked at him… ‘’That could be the name of your guardian angel, the one that saved you from taking that bus… No wonder you remember the name.’’
‘’Possibly,’’ he said staring at his tattoo, then said again, ‘’probably.’’
‘’Yeah, it’s Zen’s Tattoo… ‘’ she said.
©Patrick Ngugi 020219