By Beaton Galafa
Everything is high on something. The roads have been making noise all night wrestling with oppressive cars and multitudes of small electric bikes. The tall mountain buildings have been cutting sharp into the sky, especially when night falls, waiting for blood to ooze from the scary dark clouds covering the city and dress the earth in red. The air has been filled with clatters from tongues of Turkmens, Columbians, Cameroonians, and Ukrainians and the glimmering of men and women with bent backs trying to ni hao every foreigner. My ears can’t get used to it, especially now. I am failing to focus. This friend I am sitting next to is making it even worse. All I want now is loneliness. Whether I will be quarantined or just ignored, left in the drizzles on benches outside the hospital, it won’t matter.
A few footsteps from here, two African students at a corner are discussing how they will spend their long holiday hiking on the Wuyang Shan and maybe swimming across the Wu River. I can tell from their whispers they miss the mighty Zambezi. I would have joined them, but I don’t know how to swim, I will be captured and pressed on the chest before I even drift away to the mouth of the dragon, where all rivers lead to –before they are spurted out again into seas. That’s not adventurous. Besides, I don’t want someone to live a satisfied life thinking he once saved a drowning man in Jinhua. If it is being saved, it should be on my own terms.
The man on the motorbike in the morning scares me. The friend has done his best, trolling with me around the hospital into the streets, staring at buses, sitting at a stage and watching a young woman run from our sight, then back. It was meant to be another fine day for me, hearing about diamonds and why my friend doesn’t have an adjective in all of the universe’s languages to describe his president. I wanted to say me too, but the man on the bike has ridden away with the muse.
He came as we sat trying to figure out where to do the waiting, stopped right outside the main entrance and dashed past us, straight to the reception. The ladies in white just stared at him coldly. Then, they pulled out his white paper and the health passport pinned to it. I never got my eyes off until he exited the place. I watched him from behind the glass door as he read through the paper and the health passport quickly. He dropped his face, stashed the passport into his shorts’ pocket, rolled the paper like I always did with every of my mathematics paper in primary school, and rode off. That has made this waiting hot as hell in the desert inside me, yet cold as winter when I think about home and what awaits me if… No. I am a good man. I have always been. Gratitude for such deeds can’t be cruelty and betrayal from the gods.
It’s my turn. Inside me I am trembling. I don’t want a cold look from the receptionists. If it comes, they are sick and that must not be my problem. They should go upstairs and see the medical doctors they have been sending us to.
“This is you?”
I nod, curling my lips back into the mouth, like that’s where they protrude from. I was telling the friend just a few minutes ago that I am scared. When he asked why, I asked him if in his country you can also go to the hospital for a medical check-up, pay some doctor or any other man with access to the hospital’s stamp and have your report ready. I sounded Congolese, he said.
“Yes, it’s me of course”
I release the lips and attempt a smile. A short while ago I was also telling myself that I will not turn around to face my friend because I don’t want to tempt him into making any conclusions just in case. Now, I have even forgotten I was with him –or that the two African students at the corner helped me send some email to my coordinator. All I want is to read the report and see if I’m reported missing or returning to campus.
The woman’s smile has even complicated it all. I haven’t seen a native grin at me anywhere here. If one ever did, it was the woman outside the university’s north gate where my friends took me for supper last night. Exact smile from this lady is sending shivers down my spine. My sight is becoming blurry. I will read this at a quieter place, in the forest just outside the campus, where my heart will throb freely.
Beaton Galafa is a Malawian writer of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. He loves writing because of the many lives he lives through its eyes. His works have appeared in different publications such as Betrayal, The Seasons, The Wagon Magazine, The Bombay Review, Birds Piled Loosely, South 85 Journal, Atlas and Alice, The Kalahari Review, The Maynard, The Voices Project, Bhashabandhan Literary Review and Nthanda Review.