I am struggling to breathe because there is a strange plump woman seated on my chest, sending blow after blow to my face. Her face is round and dark, with ears popping from beneath the scarf that holds her hair in place. She throws fist after fist, and I am starting to grow tired of shielding my face. When the next fist comes about, it lands square on my nose and I let the blood flow into my mouth.
She does not stop. I can feel the ground beneath me shaking as feet hurry towards us, and I can hear the strange woman shouting, ‘I hope this becomes a lesson to your and other little mongrels out there waiting to perch on people’s husbands.”
The hurrying feet towards us slowly turn into drum beats and slowly, just before I pass out, I hear a vibration so loud that I forget about the strange woman. I pry open my eyes and beside me lies my vibrating phone.
It is 7.22 a.m. and strange numbers have no business calling me at this time. Begrudgingly, I remember that my book sales almost always depend on strange callers at weird hours. I remember that if I do not pick this up, I might sleep hungry. I might not pay up my rent. I might wake up each day with boxes full of my books, with no one to sell to. Why? I refuse to pick up new numbers.
Begrudgingly, I remember that if I do not pick up the call, I might resort to knocking on Tala’s doors, and we all know what those guys are capable of. They loan you KSh200 and keep calling even your dead grandmother to tell them that you could have died if they didn’t come through for you, so would you be kind enough to pay up?
I pick the call on its fourth ring and say a grumpy ‘Hello’, hoping whoever it is will realize I am still sleeping, mumble their apologies, promise to call back later, and forget about me all together. But then:
Them: Hello. Am I speaking to Eunniah Mbabazi?
Even though I am still sleepy, I am now alert because people who start phone calls by confirming your names are either serial killers, assassins, dead beat dads, people who eat fish together with its bones, people who eat chicken and leave the bones untouched, people who fart in matatus, people who say ‘kata kidogo kuna call ingine imeingia, or people who are about to give you a job.
I rack my brain trying to think of a job I have recently applied to, but none comes to mind. I have been content and super lazy since the year began. I have been allowing my body to go with the drift of life, while dodging any hint or smell of suffering.
I have not applied to any job, so whoever is on the other side of the call has to be one who eats fish with its bones. Then:
Me: Yes. This is Eunniah Mbabazi
Them: Right. This is Alvin
There are a few seconds of silence where I am waiting for the caller to specify which Alvin they are. What they want, why they couldn’t just text as normal people do, and why it couldn’t wait for normal hours like 11 a.m.
But Alvin does not specify, and loudly wonders how the hell I do not know him. How dare I forget his voice? Kwani how many Alvins do I know in this life?
We talk about a lot of things, seeing that we haven’t seen each other since February 2017. In between joking about his beard that has refused to grow past three strands of hair, he refers to me as Engineer Eunniah, and casually asks whether I refer to myself as one.
I laugh it off and say it is never that serious. Whenever I introduce myself, it is almost the last thing I tell people. Partly because I hate the ‘You do not look like an engineer’ vibe, because I keep wondering what is it? How do engineers look like? Do you want me to walk with a tag around my neck? Do you want me to walk with spanners and screw drivers in hand? Do you expect a helmet and an overall on me all day?
But majorly, I almost always leave that part out because it is something I have even stopped yearning for. Damn, I would kill just to practice engineering, but that want has over the time worn my heart out, and again, my body does not understand the language of suffering.
I tell Alvin that almost half of last year, I was working as an engineer. I like to think it was a great job, but just not for me, because again, my body does not understand the language of suffering. And girl oh girl, I suffered for seven freaking months.
For the seven months, I woke up daily and told myself, ‘Eunniah, this has to be your last day here. Draft that resignation letter.’
But days went on and on, and whenever I opened a blank document to type that shit out, my mind went blank. I just couldn’t do it. What next? How do I survive? Where do I live? Do I go back home? And do what exactly?
And my mother’s words kept ringing in my head; Si that job is better than just sitting idle at home? At least you are earning, even if it is a little, and you are building experience.
So my body continued to suffer. Waking up at 4.30 a.m. so I can be at work by 7.00 a.m. Getting back to my house at 10.00 p.m. after holding my heart in my hands because I was riding solo in a car with a pedophile. Sleeping hungry because by the time I got into my house, both my body and soul were in aches.
So I sat, daily, in the office, as my will to live continued to fade away, until I was on the brink of death. So I pushed my mother’s voice to the back of my mind and handed my resignation letter, with all the typos as a result of anger.
Talking to Alvin about engineering took me back to those seven dark months, and how far I have come. How far I have risen, on my own; carving my own paths, making new friends, calming my racing heart, and teaching my heart and soul to be patient with me.
Talking to Alvin has reminded me why I keep saying my body does not understand the language of suffering. Because I have been there before. I have known what suffering is from the rawest point. I have known how much courage and work it takes to do that which your heart wants, and stick to it. I know how it feels to finally be at peace with yourself. To wake up and have contentment wash over your face. To look at your reflection in the mirror and wow at the elegance.
My whole of 2019, even after I left that job, continued to take a toll on me. Why? Because even though I landed a better job just a day after handing in my resignation, the trauma from my past job kept nagging at me. I kept looking over my shoulder. I kept thinking there were people lurking in the darkness whenever I walked. I kept waiting for someone to stroll to my desk and say, ‘You are not doing this right. I do not even know why you were hired. Did you sleep with the boss?’ It was so bad to a point I was about to resign, again, just so I could have an alone time.
Talking with Alvin about our dreams and hopes for the future has reminded me that there is too much that lies ahead of me, and I am yet to get to even half of it. It has reminded me that sometimes, it is a ‘stranger’ at the other end of a call who will remind you of who you are, and give you reasons to forge on.