When I see Magda again for the first time in two years, she is not what I expect. I can see the strain of motherhood in her gait. She tells me, without the giddiness of a new mom, that her daughter has just turned three months old.
I first met Magda at Garissa University. We had both made it into a government program that later chewed us up and spat us out into oblivion. She was sleeping in the room next to mine in these ladies’ hostels that I would later see on TV all shot up, just six months later.
After the obligatory pleasantries, I ask her the question that has been swirling in my mind the whole ride over, “What was it like?”
“It wasn’t too bad,” she says. “I didn’t even realize it when my water broke. The worst part was when the nurse checked to see how far my cervix had dilated.”
I blink at her.
“Every finger counts as one centimeter, and I was at four centimeters.”
I look at my hand and shudder.
At the front desk, where they directed her to pay her admission fee, she found a commotion brewing. One of the doctors was frantically issuing instructions to the nurses to find a patient he had just lost. She was a woman, six months deep into an ectopic pregnancy, and was in danger of bleeding out. Apparently, when the doctor explained that she needed surgery as soon as possible and that the chances of her baby surviving were closer to nil than to anything else, she consented to the surgery. As soon as the doctor left the examination room though, she gathered her belongings and hightailed it out of there.
The last time I saw a pregnant woman running, Magda and I were in Kisumu. G-United, the program that brought us together in Garissa, had posted us there. The goal was to teach children who were struggling in class, how to read better. It was a noble cause. The chaps from the Ministry of Education assured us only the best for Kenya’s best and brightest. We should have been alarmed at least once; out of all 117 times they used that phrase, but no. We lapped it all up like eager, little pups. They posted us to home-stays where we shared our beds with chickens.
My home-stay in particular shared a fence with the primary school at which I was working. The headmaster there was a pompous village don. He fancied himself the most benevolent leader for allowing us to limbo dance into the school, through a hole in the fence. One morning, my host and I, came face to face with Headmaster Benevolent. He was on one of his morning inspections of the school perimeter, an exercise he only undertook when there were whispers of Quality Assurance officers visiting the school. It must have been 8:01 AM, 8:03 AM at the latest. My work did not begin until 2:00 PM so I was feeling frustrated about having to stare at the rats scurrying across the staff-room for the better part of my morning. My host – who taught baby class there – upon seeing him, a woman fifteen years my senior, gathered up her skirt to her knees and started to run. It was not the half-walk-half-jog shuffle that only gives the illusion of running but is just as slow as walking. She ran the way we used to run on Sports Day in primo.
The last time I had run like that was a few years prior on Ronald Ngala Street. It was 3:00 AM after a night of drinking. In the dim glow of a streetlight ahead, we saw the dreaded, fat kanjo women with the grip of a construction worker stuffing friends we had been partying with into a pick-up. You know, that jailhouse on wheels that follows them around. It was already over-capacity with call girls and their johns and that alone was motivation enough for me.
Now of course the situation with the headmaster came nowhere close to that so I made zero effort to appear even perturbed. Needless to say, it grated on his ego and unbeknownst to me, he started plotting my destruction. A story for another day.
Magda tells me all about her episiotomy and laughs when I ask about an epidural. She talks about her challenges as a mother and a new wife and I let her. I can tell that the baby talk is low-key driving her crazy and she’s the kind of person who never complains about a thing.
After a while, when she’s all talked out, she says, “Enough about me. What’s new with you?”
I think about my cats.
“Oh just the same old.”