She affixed the snow white ward ceiling the deathly, petrified stare of a demoniac that had found herself unexpectedly flung into the presence of the Nazarene son of God. Long and hard she stared, without ever blinking. An eerily cold hand clasped my neck, sending a chill down my spine and triggering a primal survival instinct – the proverbial kick of a dying horse.
Professor Yusuf tumbled backward, arms flailing in search of support and, finding none, braced for a fall. I swung around just in time to grab the old professor’s gloved arm and save his weary bones from crashing onto the marble floor of Entebbe Referral Hospital. He quickly suppressed a shadow of anger hovering about his eyes, and parted me awkwardly on the shoulder.
“I am sorry that I startled you”, he offered, avoiding eye contact with me, as though he feared that I could decipher the not-so-noble emotions in his eyes.
“I am sorry that I hurt you sir,” I mumbled back, terrified at how this little accident might reflect on my medical internship assessment over which he held absolute power.
“Well…well! Look who else was startled”, the old man quipped, his creased face suddenly brightening up. “It is our test subject – the specimen without I.D. Thank heavens for your little accident! Now she is out of coma, and we cannot afford to have her slip back into the underworld. Do me just one little favour, and I will forgive all your mishaps this bright Saturday morning.”
My ears pricked up like a hungry dog that had picked up the familiar rustle of meat-bearing kaveera. “Get the subject to talk, and keep her talking until I return. I don’t care what you talk about; the nastier the better. Remember, if you let her get too comfortable as to slip back into coma, I shall not be responsible. In fact, you might just kiss your dreams of practicing good bye.”
With that he spun on his heel and in one giant leap, exited the cubicle. Once again, I was all alone in the world with the deathly woman who had no name to attach to a face that once radiated beauty. You need not have known her prior to tell that she was once a beautiful African belle, for beyond the scarred face and cracked skull, was a neat row of white teeth and coal black hair. A warm compassion for the miserable thing overcame me.
“My name is Bon Voyage”, a hoarse voice labored over the ventilator, clearly in pain. Patient X…My name is Bon Voyage… It all made sense. She had suffered memory loss because of her traumatic injuries! My off-the-cuff diagnosis was confirmed by the nasty wound near the base of her skull. The signature of blunt impact.
She looked at me and let a stream of tears escape her barren eyes, unfettered. I turned and looked out of the window, into the distant horizon. “Bon Voyage is what the young French father said to me at the shelter. It is the only thing he said to me,” she paused briefly, seemingly to catch her breath and piece together scanty recollections of the calamity that had befallen her.
“He must have found me in the dustbin – it’s the last thing I remember. I spent the whole of yesterday walking across the smoldering desert, having escaped from my master’s dog kennel when he and the memsahib had gone out for Juma prayers, without food or cloth.
The ferocious beast must have taken pity upon my poor self, for when I feebly unlatched the kennel door, for the first time in the donkey years I had spent in there as his wife, he barked not. Neither did he chew on my calf as was his habit whenever I didn’t heed his powerful bark. He simply wagged his tail sadly, and I knew it was time to say goodbye.
It wasn’t long in the desert before my dying naked form, stark against the bright sand and stalked by hovering vultures, was identified by a police patrol of about eight officers. From the little Arabic I had mastered, I could tell that they had summarily charged me with the sacrilegious offence of a maid escaping from their master. I prayed that my death be quick.
I didn’t see the blow from behind coming. It was such a powerful smash that I didn’t register any pain – just a blurring of everything around me. And in that fleeting instant I saw them unbuckle their belts and drop their trousers, all in synchrony. Immediately I could tell what fate awaited my sore anus, torn by my master whenever he felt like gauging just how many of his fingers it could take at a go. I passed out.
Death forsook me, and a hellish fire robbed me of the little solace I had found in near death. The officers, having had their fill, had doused me in gasoline and placed me in a large metallic dustbin. I was too weak to scream. I guess the plan was to leave me there till I smoldered to death – the Qatari heat can be as about effective as a giant hot plate.
Finally, I woke up in a large tent-shelter where a lot of girls that looked like me were being attended to by white nurses. They were young, black and wounded. Over the din of activity I overheard one of the girls talk excitedly in Luganda about how she had escaped from slavery and wanted to return home.
For the first time in eternity, I smiled. I tried waiving at her, but the pain in my body would not let me. A young French priest came over to my side and asked for my name. I gave him a nod of thanks. He motioned me to have some rest and as he left my side, he momentarily stopped in his tracks, smiled at me and said Bon Voyage.