By Sheillah Maonga

Cherop sat on her bed and contemplated whether to take a shower before or after sleep. It was 5am in the morning, and she only had 3 hours to sleep. At 8am, she would need to step out of the house and make her way to the library where she worked as a cleaner. It was an hour long journey by bus. She thought of risking it on the train without a ticket. Her bus ticket did not allow her to travel on the trains, but she decided to take her chances. It was only 20 minutes on the train, meaning she would have an extra 40 minutes in bed. This decision to use the train solved her earlier dilemma of what to do first. Because she had added an extra 40 minutes to her time, she allowed herself to sleep first, and take a shower when she woke up.

She needed to set the alarm, otherwise she couldn’t trust her internal clock to wake her up on time. Working night shifts had messed up her internal clock. She longed for the day she would kiss goodbye to night shifts at the old people’s care home. How she hated that job. She hated the long hours spent on her feet and the smell of the place- it was a mixture of decay and cheap cleaning detergent. She hated the incessant needs of her clients that treated her like something at the bottom of their shoes; but what she hated the most was the peanuts they remunerated her. If the money was more, she would have at least developed some fondness for the job. As it was, the pay was so little that she had to take on a second job just to make both ends meet, thus, the cleaning job at the library.

She took out her phone to set the alarm. It was the first time she was putting it on after so many hours. It was a sackable offence to have one’s phone on at the care home. That is how she had lost her first job. She had merely looked at her phone for a split second during an illicit break. All the clients were sleeping. She was idle. She went to one of the empty rooms to catch her breath as it was exhausting to put all the clients to bed. Their needs were draining.

It was rare to find an empty room in the home, but on this day, there was one. One of the clients, Mr Johnson, had died in the morning so his room was vacant. There was already someone new being admitted the next day, so it was only unoccupied for just the one day. Cherop sat on the bed and took out her phone. She had not even started scrolling the messages when the door opened and one of the clients walked in. Mrs Sullivan. Mrs Sullivan suffered from dementia and Alzheimers. She must have forgotten that Mr Johnson had died. She started screaming at Cherop, asking her where Mr Johnson was. She was one of the most difficult clients at the home. It took the staff hours to settle her down. The next day, Mrs Sullivan had announced to all and sundry that she had found Cherop on Mr Johnson’s bed busy on her phone. She had been sacked, on the grounds that she had left the clients unattended, yet they required round the clock care.

She regretted that job loss, because that was a much friendlier home than the one she worked at now. This current one was less pay and more work. It was also further away from her home, which added cost to her time, energy and money. She still needed this job though, as unpalatable as it was, because due to her circumstances, it was the only job that was available to her. She lived for the day she will leave Scotland and go back to her home in Odendo Village, Eldoret, Kenya. It was not long to go. She had given herself two more years, then she would be out of this country for good. 2 years would make it 20 years she had been away. 20 years was long enough, she could not add any more time to it.

Her phone came to life and the first thing she saw were the missed calls. All of them from Kenya. She looked at the date on top of the phone screen. It was not end month, so she was a bit puzzled why these calls came at this time of the month. End month is when all the people from home rang her to find out how she was, as they claimed. These calls always ended with some request of sorts that required her financial input. She loathed such calls but always felt hard-pressed to bow to their passive aggressive requests because of her son Zawadi.

She did a lot of things because of Zawadi. In fact, she lived her life because of Zawadi. He was her reason to live, even though she had never seen him as he was. The last time she saw him face to face was when he was just a year old. He was 19 years old now. He was her reason for living. Her reason for waking up each morning to go clean the library; her reason for stepping out every night to go take care of the old people at the home. She did all this so that Zawadi could have a charmed life. And that life, he had. For example, on his 18th birthday last year, she had bought him a car that was the fantasy car of many older men. She wanted him to have the best of what life had to offer.

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Zawadi had no permanent home. He lived with any of her relatives that was most convenient to him. He got easily bored staying in one place, so was always moving around. Because of this, all these relatives had access to her and she couldn’t ignore them. Because it was too much of a risk that could go and bite her son on the back, if she didn’t strive to stay in these relatives’ good books. So, she had made peace with their calls at end month.

Looking at the call log, she could see that her 2 sisters, 1 brother and her pastor from home had called her several times each. None had left a message though. She concluded that their calls were not that important otherwise they would have left a message of sorts. She decided not to return the calls, as was her modus operandi. She had learnt the hard way that returning these calls was akin to looking for problems. They would call her again if they needed her. The only person from Kenya that she returned his calls was Zawadi. Yet, Zawadi hardly called her. It was Cherop that initiated all their calls. She lived in hope that one day he would call her first. She always reminded herself that he was a teenager and no self respecting teenager liked calling their parents to chat.

She set the alarm, put her phone aside and got into bed.

She was getting comfortable under the blanket when the shrill of her ringtone rudely jolted her. She reached out for her phone with the intention of switching it off, then she realized she needed it on for her alarm.
The screen showed that it was her pastor calling. He was incessant. She knew that she had to speak to him otherwise he would keep on calling without tiring. And yet she couldn’t turn off her phone. The pastor was in charge of her church back home being built. The pictures they sent her showed that they were building a monolith of a building. The project was fully funded by the congregation. Cherop was part of that congregation even though she last stepped in that church at least 2 decades ago. However, she was still in their books, so she was always expected to participate fully in all of the church’s fundraising drives.

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