Outside, a car door slammed and the persistent hooting of the matatus could be heard. From his bed, the sky transformed into a vast expanse of beautiful majestic rays that engulfed the town. The faint wind from outside brushed against his skin, leaving goose bumps on his bare arms. He pulled the thin blanket tighter around his body and lay back on the bed. It was four o’clock and he reached on the small table like structure near his bed to pick the radio. He switched it on. He had almost forgotten. It was his routine. Every day at four o’clock he would switch it on and listens to the Soul Central on the National Broadcasting Station (NBS). The song playing at that moment was Kenny Rodgers ‘Some Prisons Don’t Have Walls.’
He listened to the lyrics and he couldn’t help but think about how the song reflected his own life. He was not in a real prison behind bars, but the prison he was living in now was way worse.
“Life doesn’t consist of only light moments. There are tough ones too – moments that will make you question your very existence,” he recalled his mother’s words that evening when he last saw her. Life had been cruel and he had had his own share of its bitter side.
The bed made a screeching sound as he turned and faced the wall, the radio still in his hands and clinging close to his ear. This was his world. For two decades the small transistor radio had been the only companion he had had.
He let out a small sigh and looked at the couple seated on the bench at the far corner of the room. They had come to visit their relative but that couldn’t stop them from publicly displaying their affection for one another. It seemed as though they wanted the world to recognize their bond. For a moment he felt a twinge of jealousy. Why couldn’t he have that? Why did he have to suffer all alone?
The pillow had thinned out from many years of being laid on. The small mattress had seen better days and was now begging to die a dignified death.
He looked outside at the majestic display of the sun’s power. Outside, leaning on the window a man with a distant look in his eyes smoked, probably one of his last cigarettes. He wished he could go out even for a minute and bask in the glory of the setting sun.
It was like he had been abandoned. It was like the world did not care about him. Who was he anyway, for anyone to waste their time on? He was just a nobody whose life had been changed by an event that he had been struggling to move past for so long.
In the hallway there was a child crying, probably looking for the mother. On the other end at the far corner, the couple stood up holding hands to leave. The young woman was pregnant by the way she walked as if careful that if she took the wrong step, the child inside her would suffer the consequences.
The hospital had been his home for close to two decades now. Sometimes he even forgot what his life had been like before he was confined to a hospital bed. Where was his family? Why had no one come to visit him? These were some of the questions that lingered in his mind almost every day.
His mother had named him Cleopas after a white man who had given them shelter during a time when the army decided to overthrow the government and tensions rocked the country. People fled to neighboring countries while others watched helplessness as their property was rooted. His mother was six months pregnant at that time with nowhere to go. She did not have any living relatives close by who she could seek protection from. With three children, another one on the way and a dead husband, she was as good as dead.
“I will starve so that my children can have something to warm their bellies,’ she would always say.
And that evening as she watched helplessly as houses burned from a distance, she made the one choice any other mother would have made. She knew that in a matter of time the ruthless monsters would soon close in on them. There were stories of men, women and children having their throats slit while they slept as others were burned alive in their own houses. She could never forgive herself if such a disaster was to fall on her children – denying them a chance to make a life for themselves in a free country where the voices of the minority would he heard.
Wrapping a few clothes and food in a small bag, she fled in the middle of the night taking her children with her. It was not going to be easy but she knew that her children would understand that she had taken them from their home so that they could have a life.
They walked day and night, allowing them rest once in a while where she knew the militia men would not find them. And after several days, with so much pain in her stomach and wondering if she could live to see another day or even hold her own baby, she made the wise decision of making camp in a coffee plantation. Stretching so many miles away, she could see smoke rising from a distance and she knew that those were homes. Nobody would ever think of coming that far.
For three days and nights, there remained there, hogging on the little food that was remaining and when it was over, she had reached her breaking point. She considered begging, but she knew no one. She was so far away from home. The baby inside her was feeling it the most and for a moment she thought that she would collapse in hunger and never wake up again. So as the children slept, she kept watch, hoping that the militia men would not find them and at the same time afraid of closing her eyes and finding her children lying lifeless around her or worse still death visiting her by night to take her away from them.
Just as the day was breaking and dew drops covered her body, she was startled by footsteps coming towards them. Had the militia men caught up with them at last? Was this going to be the end? The children were also woken up except the youngest who continued snoring away oblivious to the danger that was now lurking so close by. She motioned to them to keep still hoping that whoever they were would just pass and leave them alone. Everyone has their day with destiny as two men with wooden clubs appeared in the coffee bushes and now stood in front of them.
“Who are you and what are you doing trespassing here?” one of them asked, the rage in his eyes evident.
Words got stuck in her throat and all she could manage was a small whimper.
She would later tell the story, to anyone who cared listen about how amidst the fear, hunger and fatigue she had managed to pin the two men on the ground stressing how the strength of one woman could surpass even that of a hundred giants.
But others talked about how a white man, making his way to the river as he always did every morning had stumbled upon his guards harassing a pregnant woman and her children and had urged them to give them a place to rest and food. Of course his mother maintained the version of how she had tackled them to the ground, tugging at her arm to portray her strength when they seemed in doubt.
Of course over the years the version kept changing. The white man, who introduced himself as Cleopas, would offer her his servant quarters and a job in his farm.
And so it happened that a baby was born in the estate of a white man and her mother out of gratitude for what Cleopas had done for them, named him after him. There was joy and jubilation that day, for to a man who had no children of his own, he had been given a whole family just like that.
When Cleopas died a few years later, they had to move out because a tug of war ensured between the family about who was the rightful heir to inherit his expansive ranch. She had pondered on going back home, but figured that there was nothing to do there.
And so with her now three children, the first born having married, she left for the city to stay with the only sister she had in the world. Life was not easy for her or her sister, with six mouths to feed. Most of the time, they had to settle for one meal a day.
And Cleopas fifteen years of age had to drop out of school to help the family. He found work in a petrol station. The salary was not good enough but it was enough for a meal and to save a little to get a house of his own one day.
It was while there that he saw her. Leaning against the wall and staring out into space. Something inside him skipped a bit. She sensed his eyes on her and looked his way for a few seconds before shyly turning away and staring into space again.
Within a month after that they were married. Cleopas had rented out a single room nearby. Before he knew it he was already a father to a beautiful baby boy. They say that destiny has its way of messing with one’s mind. His salary had increased by a few thousands. It was while he was still adjusting to life as a father that it happened. He had reported to work earlier than usual that day hoping to make an extra shift after one since he needed the money. There was no one else around as he carried the gas cylinders to the small room that had been extended to accommodate them.
There was a big bang and he was thrown out. His ears rang profusely and then all of a sudden everything went pitch black.
When he came to five days later, he was in a hospital in excruciating pain. His wife was sitting by his bed crying her eyes out. Doctors came in from time to time and the nurse attending to him would shake her head in sadness and look away as if she was trying to fight back tears.
“Is it about Eugene?” was the first thing that came to mind.
“Has something happened to my son?”
She looked at him in utter disbelief. How? For a moment she just stared at him before she finally gathered the courage to open her mouth and tell him what was going on.
“Eugene is okay. There was an accident at work and you suffered from burns which is why your body is covered in bandages.”
For the first time he looked at himself and at that time, he saw it. His left arm was wrapped in bandages and he could not feel his legs. His head hurt like it was announcing an upcoming apocalyptic event.
He looked at the nurse who was pretending to be absorbed in her own things.
“How is the situation to be sincere?”
The nurse as if awoken from a stupor looked at him and then at his wife, as if it was not her place to break the news to him. His wife gave her a small nod to go ahead.
“Well…it is still too early to conclude anything. But you have suffered serious burns. You have also lost use of your body from the waist down which is why you can’t feel your legs. We are still running some tests however and doing everything to remedy the situation….but you should be prepared for anything.”
He felt like invisible walls were tumbling down on him.
This can’t be happening. Tell me you are joking. Not now please. Tell me that this is not true,” was all he could manage to utter as his lips trembled.
The situation was heartbreaking. How do you tell the man, that his life had been changed forever? That there is a chance that he may never walk again- a man with so much hope and who seemed like family was everything to him. A small tear flowed down the nurse’s cheek and not able to take it anymore, she ran out of the room.
“How is Eugene?”
“Your son is doing okay. Please take a rest,”
“Does he know about what happened?”
“No. I didn’t have time to tell him. How do I even tell him Cleo? I just can’t.”
“Please go home, okay? He needs you now more than ever.”
“I don’t want to leave you alone,” she said as tears streamed down.
“I will be fine. Our son needs his mother now. You can come visit me tomorrow. It’s already getting late, please go,” he said in a rather pleading voice.
“Tell him that daddy will be home soon, that he is just in the hospital and the doctors are trying to make him feel better.”
And at that time he watched his wife reluctantly walk out of the door and disappear on the corridor.
The days that would follow would consist of doctor’s coming in and out of his room and carrying out random tests. His wife came back a few times and brought their son with her. It was an emotional moment to see a father and son finally reunited as if they had not seen each other for years. He cried for a while asking when his daddy was coming back home and only calmed down when one of the doctors came in and assured him that his daddy would be okay in a few days. His wife watched helplessly from a distant. She understood the situation. From what the doctors had told her, it would take a miracle for Cleopas to start walking again. There were still tests that needed to be carried out and his only hope was a hospital in India. She was not working and there was no way they would ever afford the money to fly him to India for specialized treatment. She did not want to burden him with that for now. Time would heal all wounds, she believed.
That was the last day he saw his son and his wife. They never visited him again. One week went by and there was no glimpse of them and then a month and no one came. A few months later he lost hope and started to slowly accept his situation.
His wife- the only person who had vowed to stand by him till death had abandoned him to die in the hospital. She had walked away as if their paths had never crossed. A part of him never blamed her. What was she to do? Remain tied to a cripple for the rest of her life? Who knew if he would even ever leave the hospital alive? Death was all around him and maybe the next one in line was him. Bad things were bound to happen. You could succumb to other diseases that would take you faster than paralysis. Another part of him was angry. He would have been by her side if she was the one lying on the bed.
“Surely women are the Delilah’s of today. Today they can’t live without you, tomorrow you are the devil.” The man lying on the opposite bed said as he narrated his story to him.
He couldn’t agree more with him. A part of him though still loved her and in his heart he wished that life turned out good for her. That she found the happiness she longed for. His only regret was that his child would grow up without him. Would he resent him, for not being there to watch him turn into a man? Would he even remember him or he was a forgotten case?
His wounds were slowly healing but he could still not move his legs. He needed to have an operation to see if they could correct his paralysis but seeing that there was no family member to sign the consent forms, the operation never came to happen. His efforts to trace his mother, siblings and even his aunt bore no fruit. Those who were sent said that there was nothing but empty houses where he had said they would be.
His wife had packed out of the house a long while back and the only thing she had left behind was a small suitcase with his clothes collecting dust at the corner. His friend and companion in the opposite bed with whom he had shared his concerns with, finally succumbed and with him went his hope and will of ever seeing the outside world. His wife gave him the small radio he had left behind.
Whether he liked it or not, this was his home. Patients came and went; industrial actions happened from his hospital bed and with nothing but a small radio, he got to know what was happening in the world. He got to know of the wars in Middle East and the infrastructure developments happening in his own country.
And with every day he stayed there, his hospital bill kept increasing but still…he knew that he would one day walk again and work to earn the money to clear all the bills he had accumulated. He was the son of his father and he would never allow life to beat him- to take away his hope and will to live.
Amid the number of babies being born and people dying around him, a new dawn was still around the corner. The small radio went on, and with it an echo of a better tomorrow. And when the sun rises again, he will be ready to embrace the future ahead….
When The Sun Rises is purely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Fiction by Lillyanne Gathoni