Mwangi’s eyes fought the bright fluorescent light of the hospital room.
He had suffered a massive heart attack, and the doctors here at the private and exclusive Nairobi hospital where Mwangi found himself as he awoke, had restored Mwangi to a state whereby he could be prepared for open-heart surgery.
The surgeon had been honest and forthright with Mwangi; clear and transparent that the probability of Mwangi making it through the surgery was less than good. Mwangi was a practical man, and he took the surgeon’s advice to ensure to get ‘his affairs in order’, and had his lawyer visit him earlier that morning, to make sure to sign his last will and testament.
Being a lawyer himself, Mwangi was fully familiar with the terms of his will, and which was to bequeath all his money, all his financial investments, all his property, to his younger brother Kamau, who had always been to Mwangi, the source of his deepest affection, as well as the standard bearer of his conscience. Kamau was the man that Mwangi always wished he could have been: contented, not tormented; hopeful, not cynical; happy, not sad.
After the visit from the surgeon earlier in the day, followed by the visit from his lawyer, later in the day, Mwangi became exhausted and fell into a deep sleep for several hours.
As we awoke now, amidst the bright fluorescent lights of the luxurious hospital room, he looked around and saw, and recognized, the two large bouquets of flowers that were placed on a long, thin side table against the wall of the hospital room.
One of the flower bouquets was from his beloved brother Kamau and Kamau’s wife Wanjiro. Mwangi so wished that he could live long enough to visit Kamau and Wanjiro’s young family in upcountry Limuru, but Mwangi knew, after his morning chat today with the surgeon, that his chances of traveling anywhere were less than even. It pained Mwangi to think of this.
Many things pained Mwangi to think of, and, over time, he had taught himself to avoid thinking about the things that pained him, and instead, to voluntarily enter into a state of illusion and fantasy, enjoying the privileges of wealth and power, whose principle benefit, it seemed, was to provide a distraction from reality, like a soothing potion sold by a charming and smooth talking traveling salesman, selling potions of snake oil.
The other flower bouquet on the long thin table against the wall of his hospital bedroom, was from Vishnu Patel, a mentor of Mwangi.
Vishnu had been an important guide and support for Mwangi and his brother Kamau. Although Mwangi held Vishnu in the highest esteem, he knew that his mentor was very disappointed in him. Vishnu had never come out and said this to Mwangi directly, but, in recent years, Mwangi could feel that Vishnu had become somewhat distant and lukewarm toward Mwangi.
It was not always so.
When Mwangi and Kamau were young boys growing up in Mombasa, trying to stay in school even though their parents could barely afford to keep them in school, it was Vishnu’s elder brother Sashi Patel that had become their essential bridge toward furthering their education.
Sashi had employed young Mwangi and Kamau in his grocery store in Mombasa, after school hours and on weekends, and this extra income enabled the young men to supplement their parent’s income and thus allow them to stay in school.
Mwangi had been the top student in his high school in Mombasa, and when Sashi’s brother Vishnu visited from Dar es Salaam, where he had lived for many years, he became impressed by the two brothers, Mwangi and Kamau.
Sashi had confided in Vishnu that he would not be able to keep employing Mwangi and Kamau for too much longer because Sashi’s own boys, Vimal and Vinoo were going to be leaving school and entering the grocery business fulltime with Sashi. It was then that Vishnu suggested to Sashi that Vishnu employ Mwangi and Kamau during their summer holidays from school, at Vishnu’s palatial estate on the exclusive Oyster Bay in Dar es Salaam.
It was during that summer that Vishnu took a keen interest in the future welfare of both Mwangi and Kamau. The brothers were unique and different in their aspirations. Kamau was very much like Vishnu’s brother Sashi, and wanted a simple, contented life, without ambition or complication.
Mwangi, as Vishnu quickly perceived, was fiercely ambitious and extremely bright if not brilliant with his intellect. Even though Mwangi was only in high school and working as a gardener on Vishnu’s estate, he had already told Vishnu that he wanted to become a lawyer, and to fight for the rights of labor unions, as well as to investigate and advocate for social justice for the atrocious crimes against humanity committed by the British Colonial Administration in Kenya, which had forced Mwangi’s countrymen and Kikuyu tribesmen in to Soviet style gulag labor camps in Kenya.
Mwangi was a passionate and fiery young man.
He was on fire when it came to social justice, the need for postcolonial social reforms in Africa, and holding the British in East Africa accountable for their exploitative crimes. Vishnu saw in Mwangi the same fiery young man that he had been as a young man in his village in Kathiawar, in the state of Gujarat in India, raising his voice at this aunty Saraswati and having angry altercations with police officers of the Imperial Indian Military Police.
As an older and seasoned man, as a venerable elder who was respected as a businessman, and who was fair and shrewd, Vishnu saw an opportunity to guide and mentor the young Mwangi, in the hopes that Mwangi might harness and channel his fiery idealism into practical outcomes such as the social justice reforms that young Mwangi aspired to implement for Kenya.
That summer in Dar es Salaam, Vishnu made a commitment to Mwangi to put him through university and through law school so that Mwangi could become the lawyer he aspired to be. Meantime, Vishnu’s generosity also extended to Mwangi’s younger brother Kamau, whose own quiet aspiration was to one day be a small business owner and have his own flower shop.
Some years later, when Vishnu relocated with his family from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi, he simultaneously recommended to Mwangi and Kamau to relocate from Mombasa to Nairobi, so that Vishnu could make good on his promise to sponsor Mwangi’s law studies at Nairobi University, and to invest in Kamau’s flower shop in downtown Nairobi.
Vishnu, a man of his word, saw to it that Mwangi and Kamau got a break in life, and was delighted to see them both blossom in their own unique way. Kamau had been running an efficient and profitable flower shop and loved his work. He particularly loved to drive his delivery van to the Kenyan upcountry, meeting directly with flower growers of the farming community, who Kamau always considered the salt of the earth. It is the work he himself would have done if he had not been fortunate to have Vishnu invest in his flower shop. Now, he was in the privileged position to provide a sales outlet for the flower farming community and this warmed Kamau’s heart.
Mwangi had done well at this law studies at Nairobi University, and Vishnu had then paid for Mwangi to study further in Great Britain at the Inns of Court in London, as part of the Honorable Society of the Inner Temple, where Gandhi himself had studied law and been called to the bar.
It was a proud day for Vishnu and Kamau when Mwangi himself was called to the bar and qualified as a barrister in the United Kingdom. Mwangi returned to Nairobi and was launched into the stratosphere of the African technocratic elite, using his new power well to fight for social justice causes dear to his heart, such as the rights of urban laborers and rural farmers.
There seemed a natural entrée into the next phase of Mwangi’s soaring career, which was politics.
Once again, Vishnu stepped up, this time with his political and corporate connections, and funded the campaign for Mwangi to run as a Member of Parliament.
Mwangi won the election of course, and once he became an MP he became elevated even higher, from national to international statesmen, representing Kenyan and even pan-African interests abroad in Europe; in London and Paris, and in Brussels and Geneva.
Mwangi had risen to become a powerful and influential African statesmen.
For as long as Mwangi could remember, ever since they were little children, his brother Kamau loved plants and flowers. When they were children, Mwangi once asked Kamau why he loved flowers so much. Kamau replied:
“Flowers Mwangi, are a window to what heaven will look like. Heaven will be full of flowers of all colors and fragrances and it will be maridadi!!”
Maridadi was the Coastal Swahili word for joyous, beautiful and festive.
Mwangi could never forget that sincerity of Kamau’s smile as he stated with such conviction that heaven was a place that was strewn with lovely flowers. In later years, when Kamau became a florist, he said that visiting the upcountry farmers in the Kenyan farmlands and romping through the vast flowerbeds was for Kamau, the closest thing he imagined to heaven.
As Mwangi lay on his bed, the intravenous tubes feeding into his forearms and the heart monitor perched above him flashing and beeping away in soft sights and sounds that betrayed the impending doom that appeared to be his destiny, Mwangi began to wish that he had thought of heaven in the purer sense that his beloved brother Kamau had thought of heaven. He popped his head up slightly and looked intently toward the long wooden table against the wall that had two lonely flower bouquet upon them, one from Kamau and the other one from Vishnu. Not much of a window to the heaven he might end up in, thought Mwangi.
A heaven sparse and sparing of flowers.
That, of course, was assuming Mwangi ended up in heaven at all.
It was much more likely, thought Mwangi, that he would end up in hell, which was simply an extension of the hell he felt flaming and raging within his own heart at this very moment. It was probably this hell within Mwangi that had caused the heart attack in the first place. The intense sadness, the intense loneliness and desperate despair, all in the lap of luxury and privilege.
How did this all happen?
How did he go from a young, lean, idealistic firebrand of a lawyer, an advocate for human rights and social reform, to a middle aged, obese, debauched and degenerate excuse for a human being? How had he sunk into such a despicable slide toward depravity and decadence?
These things creep up on you, thought Mwangi to himself.
It was like his massive body weight, which his specialist doctor on Harley Street in London had warned him for years, was causing a stress on his heart and would raise the risk of heart disease.
In the past ten years, he had put on an average of ten pounds a year. Ten pounds did not seem a lot in a year, but when that compounded to him adding over one hundred pounds of body weight in a decade, then, suddenly, he felt like a completely different person.
His doctors warned him about losing weight but Mwangi did not care.
He liked to eat and drink. And he liked to stay out late. He liked to gamble. Life was short, and he was going to live it to the fullest. Of course, not everyone agreed with this perverse and reckless course that Mwangi had veered into and the one whose respect he had always craved the most, his mentor Vishnu Patel, had completely lost respect for Mwangi.
He so wished he had spoken to Vishnu more, but Mwangi was ashamed and could no longer even look Vishnu straight in the eye, and avoided Vishnu, as much as he could even though they moved in many of the same social circles in Nairobi, lest they both be embarrassed by the encounter. Mwangi knew he had let Vishnu down, and that he had let himself down.
These things creep up on you, thought Mwangi; you don’t see them coming.
When Mwangi was a young man, he would discuss and debate for hours with Vishnu, on the European Scramble for Africa. As the passionate young man and firebrand that Mwangi used to be, he would recount with outrage the horrors committed by men like King Leopold of II of Belgium in the Congo, and the brutality and cruelty of European colonialism.
Vishnu would attempt to calm Mwangi and remind him that Vishnu himself was as much of a firebrand in his own youth, and even had altercations with The British Empire police in his village in India. Vishnu implored Mwangi to learn to forgive the Europeans. To thoughtfully and tenderly cultivate forgiveness within his heart in the same way that the farmers in Limuru cultivated the bright and vibrant flower fields within the fertile African soil.
“I can never forgive the Europeans for what they did to my beloved Africa!”
“You must,” pressed Vishnu, “You must, Mwangi. Not for the Europeans, but for your own self. You cannot go into the world carrying so much toxic anger in your heart, or your heart will just explode and break down.”
When Mwangi became a politician and a member of parliament, he began to meet with European delegations in East Africa and abroad in London, Paris, Brussels and Geneva. It was then that Vishnu saw the opening he had been waiting for to have Mwangi find peace and reconciliation within his own soul by forgiving the Europeans and learning to work with them.
“Mwangi,” implored Vishnu, “You need to forget the colonial Europe who you resent for exploiting Africa and you need to now focus on the future and not the past. You are now a respected politician and statesman and you need to work with the Europeans for the development of Africa.”
It sounded reasonable enough, and Mwangi found himself yielding to Vishnu’s words of wisdom, and promising to try his best to overcome his prejudices against the Europeans and work with them toward making a fresh start in the development of a postcolonial Africa.
It sounded reasonable.
However, reason and reality are not always the same, as Mwangi discovered.
‘Snake oil’, thought Mwangi to himself as he lay in his hospital bed.
The Europeans had sold him snake oil, and he had happily bought it.
Ten years ago, when Mwangi was a rising star as a politician, after he had made his maiden speech in Kenya’s parliament, the European delegation began to court him and invited him to the grand capitals and the grand hotels of Europe. Mwangi, in his earnestness to heed the wise advice of his mentor, Vishnu Patel, complied with these invitations, in an effort to begin to understand the European mindset and learn to work with their diplomats.
As a young politician who was still wet behind the ears and somewhat naive, Mwangi had made himself believe that the new generation of Europeans, the postcolonial Europeans, cared for Africa and were remorseful about the history of horrors that was the European Scramble for Africa.
The encroaching Europeanization of Mwangi crept up on Mwangi gradually.
He would accept an invitation to a lunch in Brussels or a dinner in Paris, with a distinguished European delegation, and he would come fully prepared to converse about African economic development issues. He would soon discover that what the Europeans preferred to discuss was pate de fois gras or fine French wines, or, as was common with the wives of these delegates, the haute couture in Paris, or, the latest highly paid and bottomless expense account, cushy and comfy soft civil servant job that had recently been snapped up by a well-connected, dimwitted and inbred Brussels diplomat.
This wasn’t the worse part.
Mwangi attended a lunch in Geneva with delegates from the United Nations after a conference on poverty in Africa. The lunch was five courses and lavished and laced with expensive European wines, brandies and liquors.
Mwangi recalled, after he had recently stayed at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d’Antibe in the South of France, how this hotel had been a favorite for both King Leopold II of Belgium as well as his successor, President-for-Life Mobutu Sese Seko. Moreover, Mobutu was known to have a vast wine collection in his castle valued at over two million dollars. One time, when so many of his Congolese countrymen were starving to death, Mobutu opened up a couple of wine bottles at dinner, while he hosted his European friends.
Mobutu opened a Chateau Mouton-Rothschild ‘45 and a Chateau Petrus ’47 which together totaled a value of close to ten thousand dollars.
Mobutu had become Leopold, just as the pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm had become the farm owners and the new oppressors and exploiters.
‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’
As Vishnu had once said to Mwangi, citing the fourteenth century poet Ibn Khaldun, those that are historically oppressed, as the Africans were by the Europeans, tend to take over the habits and vices of their oppressors.
It all happened so gradually, Mwangi thought, as he lay in his hospital bed.
Ten years ago, he had made his first visit to Europe in the capacity of an African statesmen.
His heart then, was full of hope and optimism. He had thought, as Vishnu had convinced him to think, that the problem, the barrier, the wall that prevented progress, lay within Mwangi’s own prejudice and resentment against European colonialism. Yet, as he began to learn rapidly, the wall did not exist within Mwangi, and his lack of forgiveness, but in the European’s abundant ignorance and indifference to the plight of Africans.
This was politics.
Politics was about appearance and not reality. It was about appearing to care and appearing to understand the plight of Africans. Europeans had needs. Europeans had to satiate needs for photo opportunities to keep up the show.
Mwangi finally began to understand why the Europeans invited him to their lunches and dinners and conferences. It was about making a show of caring. It was about appearances. And what better ‘appearance’ than for an African politician, a rising young star who had done so much for labor unions and rural farmers and social reforms in his own home country, to appear in a photo opportunity, and a lunch and a dinner in Europe with Europeans?
It made the Europeans appear all warm and fuzzy and caring and it provided Mwangi with an essential role in which to serve the Europeans – a prop. When a play is staged in the theatre, the actors need a well designed set and they need an impressive prop or two.
An expensive restaurant was the set, and Mwangi, the model African, with the squeaky clean image and impeccable political track record was the impressive prop. Although it crept up on him, the day soon dawned when Mwangi realized that he was being played by the smooth talking European diplomats and that he was merely a prop in their elaborate and showy play.
And after a little while longer, Mwangi realized that it went further than this.
He realized that he was not just a prop, he was a janitor.
Mwangi performed the hard work and the dirty, filthy, clean-up work which Europeans were unwilling to ever do. The Europeans were not willing to care about Africa, or understand her culture, or travel to the rural areas of the African continent and role up their sleeves and spend just one single day doing the dirty, filthy work of African development, which would give them a visceral, hands-on understanding of the needs of African economies.
No. It is never appropriate for Europeans to get their hands dirty.
The Europeans don’t need to make that much effort to appear to understand Africa.
Instead, all they need to do is pay for some African politician to perform for them as a prop for the newspapers and magazines, because seen photographed with an African politician of the caliber of Mwangi helped to give the impression of ‘caring for Africa’, not to mention that it also helped to further the career diplomats’ advances up the ranks toward the coveted cushy and comfy, soft, padded, fat cat civil servant job – the kind that had recently been snapped up by a well-connected, dimwitted, inbred diplomat.
Ten years ago, Mwangi came to the realization that he was being played like a fine violin by the crafty European diplomatic corps and that, essentially, nothing had really changed since the historic European Scramble for Africa.
European corporations still held power and influence in Africa, just as they had done during European colonialism. Nothing had changed that much.
Ten years ago, Mwangi came to this realization and that is when he started drinking and gambling and stress eating, and torturing his tormented heart.
The nurse had come in momentarily to Mwangi’s hospital room to check up on him and to inject him with a sedative. She had informed him that he needed to rest and keep his strength up before going into his heart surgery. Knowing that he was about to fall into a deep sleep, Mwangi thought about what he would like to dream about, while he was sleeping. More and more, as Mwangi had been confined to the hospital room and bedridden, and been made to strip himself of the smart embellishments of tailored suits and custom made leather shoes; Mwangi found that his only refuge and his only means to distract himself, was by day-dreaming about the life he had lived after he had accepted the sophisticated snake oil sold him by the Europeans.
Day-dreaming and living in illusions was soothing, as snake oil always was.
In so many ways, thought Mwangi, he was no different than the tribal chiefs of Matabeleland and Mashonaland in nineteenth century South Africa that The British Empire colonist and exploiter Cecil John Rhodes had swindled out of their land and mining concessions. Rhodes had done this by having his medical doctor friend Dr. Jameson, Sir Leander Starr Jameson, KCMG, CB, PC, First Baronet and future Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, get the tribal chiefs drugged up and addicted to morphine. Once they became morphine addicts, they tribal chiefs were willing to sign any document the devious Rhodes presented to them for his British South Africa Company.
Mwangi cared not, at this moment, to consider all the documents he had himself signed, and, like some drugged up nineteenth century Matabeleland tribal chief, had been snake charmed into signing; slippery documents that successively slide Mwangi upon the thin end of the wedge, by blurring the lines between contracts and compliances, to concessions and compromises, from confidentialities and concealments… to collaborations and corruptions.
Corruption, like everything else in Mwangi’s recent life, crept up on him.
Although he did not wish to face the facts at this particular moment, while he had been sedated and was about to fall asleep, Mwangi knew precisely what the real facts were about him. He knew exactly what he had become.
Mwangi had become the cardboard cutout caricature of the corrupt African politician, which, in one succinct and Bantu and Swahili word, was simply:
Mwangi was now a wabenzi. An African politician or technocrat with large and dubious means of wealth accumulation, who drove a Mercedes Benz.
Mwangi was a practical man and he knew what he had turned into and he knew all his demons but he was not ready to visit them at this particular moment as he was falling asleep. After all, if Mwangi did not make it through his heart surgery later today, then he would have to likely face his sins and the corruption that had corroded his heart and soul, with his Maker.
For now, all Mwangi wanted to do was to place his mind in the places that he had been invited and courted by the Europeans, and the places where he had accepted, in exchange for his compliance with their needs, the snake oil.
If there is one thing that can be said of the Europeans, it was that they had perfected the most exquisite snake oil that money can buy. No wonder, realized Mwangi, the Europeans did not feel a sense of burden and remorse as a result of their own crimes against humanity on the African continent. How could the European technocratic elite possibly even think about Africa when tasting the delicious and decadent distractions that they consumed?
Mwangi had become Europeanized and learned to develop the expensive tastes of European snake oil for which, the benign term was ‘civilization’.
The illusion of being the ‘civilized’ and sophisticated European that Mwangi had now become, was all he wanted to think about at this moment because it was such a sumptuous, opulent distraction from his drab, dull surroundings. As the sedative that the nurse had injected into Mwangi began to kick in, Mwangi went with the flow and allowed his mind to drift to his favorite European capitals, where wine flowed freely as long as you paid money, and where he was surrounded by the wealthy and healthy, luxurious and lavish.
Mwangi’s first stop in this drifting into dreams, in this montage of mirages, was the casino in Monte Carlo where he loved playing his favorite card game of chemmy – baccarat chemin de fer – with his French diplomatic friends, Claude and Thibauld, both of whom had taught Mwangi the game of chemmy. Mwangi loved the atmosphere of optimism in the casino. One had to be optimistic to be a gambling man. He had always admired the impeccable French tailoring of Claude and Thibauld although Mwangi himself was strictly British old school, a devoted Savile Row man.
Since his student days studying law at the Inner Temple in London, Mwangi had enjoyed the idea of one day being able to afford having his suits tailored at Savile Row in Mayfair and his dress shoes custom made at Foster and Son on Jermyn Street. In the past ten years he had got his wish and remained proud of his English tailoring despite the fact that Claude and Thibauld teased Mwangi about the fact that they would never go to a ‘ros bif’ tailor.
Claude and Thibauld were born with the pedigree with which it was a smooth journey up the ladder of the French technocratic elite into the most choice position in European industry and commerce as well as in the French civil service. Claude was an énarque – a graduate of the prestigious ENA (École Nationale D’Administration) while Thibauld was a graduate of the prestigious Sciences Po – The Paris Institute of Political Studies.
Both Claude and Thibauld had played chemmy while at university and once they taught their new friend Mwangi how to play, Mwangi became addicted. As he was dozing to sleep, Mwangi smiled to himself at the opulent life he had tasted from his European friends.
His dreamy state drifted to Brussels, the international hub of soft diplomatic jobs that specialized in a complete lack of specific description and purpose which had meant, for Mwangi and other African delegates, that they could have vague business meetings and attend purposeless conferences and, after going through these requisite motions, they could spend long and languid hours at the finest eating establishments enjoying liquid lunches and discussing development.
He’d tasted few meals more sublime than at Comme Chez Soi on Place Rouppe in Brussels.
He loved the Breton red mullet and the duck liver. He knew this was probably a bit fatty and high cholesterol contented, and he knew that his doctors had reprimanded him for eating such rich foods which would take their toll on his weak heart but, well, what the doctors did not understand is that Mwangi was a well fed slave and when you are a slave, life is not worth living anyway, so why not enjoy the spoils of slavery?
The problem Mwangi had with all these busy body doctors, including his fine doctor on Harley Street in Marylebone in London, is that when a person has already sold their soul into slavery, the body and its various parts such as the human heart, are peripheral and merely collateral damage. If Mwangi’s doctors could advise him on how he might free his soul from the slavery of the Europeans, then Mwangi would be willing to listen to his doctors.
However, when his doctors go on and on about how Mwangi is risking heart failure while being completely oblivious of the fact that Mwangi is already in the depths of the dark night of his tortured soul, then the sounds of the doctors voices are just that – sounds.
They mean nothing whatsoever to a man whose soul is in deep anguish. All he ever feels like doing after a visit to his doctor is to go for a nice big meal and wash it down with wine.
Even a slave has to eat, and compared to most slaves throughout African history, Mwangi surely had to have the dubious distinction of being the very best-fed African slave.
Yes, thought Mwangi, that was him: King of Slaves!
Mwangi’s brother Kamau was in tears as he spoke on the phone with Vishnu Patel.
Kamau had just heard from Mwangi’s doctor, who had asked Kamau to rush over to Mwangi’s hospital room. Apparently, Mwangi had been given a sedative to have him rest in preparation for his heart surgery, but instead of Mwangi naturally awakening from a restful slumber, he had sunk into a deep, heavy coma. The doctor also said that Mwangi’s vital signs were failing and that the prospects for Mwangi did not look promising.
There were basically two possible outcomes at this stage:
Either Mwangi would not awake from his coma and die peacefully during the coma, or, Mwangi may awaken for a very brief period, as sometimes occurs in these situations. He may awaken for a short while with a surge of energy from the awakening, but then, considering his failing vital signs, Mwangi would most likely sink back into a sleep and then pass on.
“Kamau, there may be a small window when Mwangi becomes conscious for one last, short period of time. You should make sure you are there in the hospital room with Mwangi if this occurs. I recommend you get over to Mwangi’s hospital room right away and stay here incase he awakens.”
Kamau tearfully conveyed this information to Vishnu on the phone.
Vishnu was silent on the other end of the phone from Kamau for what seemed like a long time to Kamau. Then Vishnu uttered four words quietly:
“I have an idea,” said Vishnu.
Vishnu took charge of the situation and explained to Kamau in very specific and methodical terms, what Kamau needed to do next:
Kamau was to close down his flower shop for the day by putting the ‘closed’ sign on the door. He was then to gather every single bunch of flowers and every single plant in his flower shop and pack every last one into his van.
He was then to drive in the van to the hospital together with one of Kamau’s assistants, and Kamau and his assistant were then to unload the van of all the plants and flowers and carry every last one to Mwangi’s hospital room.
As for the purpose of this elaborate endeavor, Vishnu said to Kamau that he would explain all that to him later, but for now, Kamau needed to go ahead and work with his assistant to load up his van with the plants and flowers.
After hanging up the phone with Kamau, Vishnu, who was at his desk at this office in downtown Nairobi, took a few moments to himself to think about Mwangi, a man he had so admired, and a man who Vishnu had felt from the early days in which they had met in Mombasa at Vishnu’s brother Sashi’s grocery store, was a man after Vishnu’s own heart.
The deep affection that Vishnu felt for Mwangi had never left, and at this moment, as Vishnu pondered these things sitting alone at his desk, that affection for Mwangi welled up in his heart as much as if Mwangi had been Vishnu’s own son.
Vishnu entered the hospital room of Mwangi about an hour after Kamau and his assistant had filled the hospital room with festive and exotic plants and colorful and fragrant flowers. Kamau’s assistant had left and Kamau sat quietly on the chair next to Mwangi’s bed, while Mwangi still slept peacefully in a deep coma. Kamau rose up from his chair as Vishnu entered the room carrying a large manila envelope. Kamau and Vishnu embraced.
“Kamau,” began Vishnu as he sat down on the chair next to Kamau and opened up the contents of the manila envelope to reveal a batch of neatly type identification labels; “I went over to Government House to Mwangi’s office to see Gladys his secretary. I asked Gladys to go through Mwangi’s Rolodex and provide me with the names of all his business and diplomatic friends, including a brief description of each of them. Gladys then typed each name and description onto a separate sticky label – here they are.”
“I don’t understand, Vishnu…” replied Kamau, somewhat baffled.
Vishnu asked Kamau to stand up with him and he explained to Kamau that every sticky identification label with a name and description was to be attached to every single bouquet of flowers or exotic plant in the hospital room as if each of these flower bunches and plants had actually been sent by the name of the person identified in the sticky identification label.
Within a few minutes, Vishnu and Kamau had managed to give every bouquet of flowers or exotic plant in the hospital room an identity label.
Then, Vishnu and Kamau went and sat down again beside Mwangi’s bed.
Over the next few hours, as both men sat patiently next to Mwangi’s bed, the nurse had made several visits to the hospital room to check up on the heart monitors next Mwangi’s bed and to check the patient’s condition. On one occasion, a member of the hospital catering staff came in as well, and he brought Vishnu and Kamau a much needed cup of tea and some biscuits.
Presently, a beeping sound began to go off at regular intervals from the monitors next to Mwangi’s bed – he was awakening from his coma. A nurse rushed into the room and checked Mwangi’s vital signs and then called for a doctor who examined Mwangi. Mwangi was feeling a little groggy and somewhat comatose but was beginning to perk up and his eyes began to brighten as the life flooded back into them. He smiled when his squinted eyes began to open slightly and he saw Kamau and Vishnu at his bedside.
The doctor whispered discretely to Vishnu and Kamau that he was going to let the nurse stay in the room with them and call him if Mwangi began to experience any discomfort or alarm. He advised Vishnu and Kamau to speak gently with Mwangi, and to be aware that Mwangi’s alertness and strength may be short-lived and that he may need to fall back asleep at any time.
With that, the doctor left the room, and the nurse stood attentively by Mwangi’s bedside. Mwangi was beginning to come back to life again.
In a slow silence that spoke volumes, Vishnu and Kamau observed Mwangi as his senses began to take in the sight and smell of the fragrant flowers and plants that flooded the hospital bedroom like an endless field of festivity.
“I … I can not believe it!” exclaimed Mwangi with a quiet and mumbled murmur that was buoyed by an overwhelming sense of joy and exaltation.
Vishnu and Kamau let Mwangi take it all in and gave him time to do so.
“You remember Kamau,” began Mwangi in a voice that was more cohesive and somewhat stronger, “You remember, when we were children and you said to me one day, when I asked you why you loved flowers, you said: ‘Flowers Mwangi, are a window to what heaven will look like. Heaven will be full of flowers of all colors and fragrances and it will be maridadi!!’
“Maridadi!” repeated Kamau, laughing, “Yes, I remember, mu brother!”
Mwangi went quiet for a long time, as he looked at all the flowers and plants in his room, with a sense of awe and reverence that flooded his visage.
“I can not believe it…” repeated Mwangi, still in such disbelief, “Who sent all these flowers to me?”
Vishnu stood up and spoke:
“People from all over the world, Mwangi. So many people love you and so many people wish for you to get better so they can all see you once again. Would you like me to tell you which of these flowers were sent to you by which of your friends? I can read you the cards they sent you.”
“Yes,” replied Mwangi, with a tone that contained a childlike enthusiasm.
Vishnu began his elaborate performance. Kamau joined in the playacting.
“Now this one,” began Vishnu, standing over a magnificent flower bouquet and perching his reading glasses clumsily upon his nose as he started to read the sticky identification label that Vishnu had asked Mwangi’s secretary Gladys to type up, “This one… this is from your friend Marcel in Brussels who writes here… ‘Mwangi, mon ami, how I wish we were dining at the Comme Chez Soi on the Place Rouppe… you enjoying your favorite dishes of Breton red mullet and duck liver! Courage, mon ami… Courage!’”
“Ah… dear Marcel, how sweet of him,” said Mwangi fondly.
“And his one, my dear brother,” began Kamau, as he walked to another magnificent flower bouquet, “This one is from your friend Claude, who says here: ‘Mwangi, my dear, dear friend, I am missing you here in Monte Carlo. Come back soon so we can play some chemmy. Thibauld and I send you our love and want you to get better very soon. We miss you!’”
“Oh, Claude,” began Mwangi, still utterly gob-smacked by this astonishing and colorful and festive display of abundant love flooding around his hospital bed, as if he were giddily afloat upon a seabed of sweetness or a cloud winged by the flight of angels; “Claude warms my heart… You know Vishnu, that Claude is an énarque. He graduated with honors from École Nationale D’Administration – a brilliant man. Ah, and dear Thibauld…”
“You have achieved something that few of us could ever have hoped for Mwangi,” began Vishnu, turning to Mwangi and looking him in the eye, “You have tried your level best, as an African, to become a friend of the European, and that takes a heart full of courage and of forgiveness.”
Mwangi looked at Kamau and then back to Vishnu. Kamau nodded in agreement with Vishnu’s warm and congratulatory words toward Mwangi.
“You said to me once, dear Vishnu,” Mwangi began thoughtfully, “That I needed to overcome my anger toward the European colonialism, and that I needed to forgive the Europeans for their crimes against humanity toward my fellow Africans. In this moment, Vishnu, I can honestly say that in the very depths of my soul, I feel that sense of forgiveness and the sweet sense of grace and release that it gives me. I am freed, Vishnu, from all my anger.”
Vishnu smiled at Mwangi, with a smile so filled with a tangible affection.
Kamau fought back the tears and tried to be strong for his brother as he said:
“I am so happy, my brother,” said Kamau to Mwangi, “I am so happy, that you have finally released your anger toward the European colonials and that you have made peace with yourself, and found that sweet freedom within.”
“Yes,” acknowledged Mwangi, his voice weakening and starting to tremble.
“You are loved by so many, my brother,” said Kamau, “Loved and cherished by people all around the world. We all want you to get better very soon.”
“I think…”, said Mwangi in a shaky and trembling voice, “I think now, that I need to take a little nap… I am feeling a bit tired… Truly, I have not known this kind of peace within my heart for as long as I can remember…”
With those quiet words, Mwangi took a nap from which he never awoke.
KARIM AJANIA , January, 2016, All Rights Reserved
Registrant: Karim Ajania
Author: Karim Ajania
The Sadhu of Nairobi
Registration Number: 1822808
FILE NAME: Sadhu-of-Nairobi.docx
EFFECTIVE DATE: 2/1/2016