It was a calm afternoon with a cool breeze blowing away the hair of women. It was around 3pm in Kigali and the sun was still gently shinning and sliding towards the western mountains.
Nina, a 32 year young woman took time to feel the signs in her womb, she knew that she was going to go through the same monthly pain, as other women in the world. That afternoon, Nina was still at the office.
She checked her handbag and found what she was looking for: a tablet of Ibuprofen. She swallowed the pill without any liquid.
‘Sheet!’ Nina hissed at the wrong timing of her periods.
She cursed in her heart of hearts. As if this wasn’t enough, she was also pissed off because their office neighbor displaced a beehive from one tree to another, unintentionally allowing all the bees to escape from it. They were violently rioting outside, suspended in the air like dozens of military helicopters and everyone was bothered by that crazy bee agitation.
Nina was working for one of USAID projects in Rwanda; she had landed in the country seventeen months earlier. This new job was her dream-job because she had always wanted to work in the development sector, preferably on the African continent. However, the job had separated her from her fiancé Jim in Minnesota leaving her suffering from loneliness, sultriness and painful periods. Although Jim was not the kind of man to make women heads spin, the American young woman had fallen in love with his charming personality and soft blond hair.
She was so attached to him that her friends didn’t understand her choice of taking a job that would consign her to a long-distance relationship. In addition, how could she leave her comfortable life in the US and go to fade in Africa? Although Jim had supported her decision, Nina could read silent incomprehension in his magnificent blue eyes. At the airport on the day of her departure, he had hugged her for long seconds and swept tears from his eyes with the back of his hands before saying:
“I am happy for you, sweetheart.”
They had promised to call each other every day and meet at least four times a year somewhere on the planet. They had kept that promise till daily calls started delaying, sometimes due to different time zones, other times due to impossible work schedules. Nina could call and wake Jim up in middle of a deep sleep, apologize, and murmur a hurried ‘I love you’ that she wasn’t even sure he heard. Such situations left her with a constant feeling of guilt that she could no longer narrate her day to Jim as she used to.
Living on the other corner of the city was Kathleen, a Rwandan nurse. She worked at Kibagabaga hospital, one of the referral hospitals in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
On this particular night, she was on duty, assisting Dr Mujeyi at the emergency wing of the hospital. While waiting for emergencies, she sipped a cup of sweet tea. Then, she heard the siren of an ambulance and stood up rapidly, causing the small spoon to fall down from the teacup. Its resounding noise as it hit the tiled floor disappeared under the loud siren of the white ambulance.
Kathleen slipped on latex gloves and ran to the emergency main door. Dr Mujeyi joined her just a paramedic opened the ambulance’s rear doors. The patient was a small boy hit by a crazy motor rider who was driving at breakneck speed. The skull of the boy was injured and he had a serious hemorrhage. The nurses transported him on a stretcher. Sadly, the young life passed on before the medical team could stop the gushing blood that had already turned the stretcher’s white sheet into a bright red.
Though Kathleen was a well-experienced nurse, every death affected her differently. She had never learnt how to recover from a child’s passing. And there was something in the look of that boy that broke her heart.
She resented accountants, agronomists, tailors and everyone for not experiencing the pain of an Emergency room. She resented them for dealing with their own lives while she was struggling to save others lives. But mostly, she resented Pascal for being away in another hospital, in Europe. She had dated the young man for five years since the time he was in medical school at the University of Rwanda. They had met during an international conference on Kangaroo Mother Care that was held in India. It was a special gathering for the couple-to-be because both were Rwandans and they were in a foreign country.
Now, Pascal had obtained a scholarship to specialize in cardiology at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. It was a golden opportunity for him so she couldn’t be happier for Pascal. Around the time he was about to fly to Bruxelles, her friends started telling her that if the young man was going to Europe, he would surely marry another woman and forget Kathleen. They advised her to trap Pascal with pregnancy, which would oblige him to marry her before moving to Belgium. Kathleen told him the whole story, they had laughed and then kissed.
As Kathleen was poking around sweet memories, the pain and the solitude of Nina were worsening. She couldn’t wait to be home in her bed. When she reached her expat house in the fancy neighborhood of Kimihurura, she parked her car outside, ran into the house and took a hot shower. Right after, she drunk a burning soup prepared by her housemaid Rose then slumped into her large bed.
Although she knew it wasn’t fair, Nina resented Jim for not being around to hold her in his arms. She wished she could revenge by inviting another guy to comfort her. If she ever cheated on Jim, would it be with Todd that she met at Soleluna Restaurant while playing Trivia Games on Monday evenings or would that be with Gasana the attractive Rwandan researcher who also working for another USAID project? Instead, she read again the Diary of Anne Frank. It was 2:48 pm in the US, so she couldn’t call because Jim was still at the office.
At Kibagabaga hospital, together with the nurses who worked in the mortuary, Kathleen brought the dead body of the young boy who had perished in the moto accident. She felt sick. She went back in the nurses’ office; her foot hit the small spoon that she had dropped down a couple of hours before. Tears ran down her beautiful face. She missed the comfort that Pascal gave her during tough moments. Yet she couldn’t call him because he was in a tough exam period and she knew he needed to focus. She couldn’t dare to disturb him.
The next morning, a Saturday, she lazily woke up from her bed, showered and put on tight dark jeans, a bright blouse and leather jacket. She carefully applied make-up and went to Liza’s house in Kimironko. She had promised to help Liza prepare snacks for guests. Kathleen had met Liza during a primary healthcare meeting in Kigali. Since then, the two women had stayed in touch.
“Thanks for coming Kat, I don’t know what I would do without you!” Said Liza as she openined the gate with one hand and held a glass of white wine with the other hand.
She then thanked Kathleen for stuff she bought from the nearby Kimironko market.
“You look tired, Kat” Liza observed after spending few minutes with her friend.
“We lost a child last night!”
Liza took time to listen to the story of the child who died in a moto accident. She consoled her friends and then made a small joke. They laughed and Liza took that opportunity to ask:
“My sixth sense tells me that something worse is happening! Am I right or wrong?”
Kathleen sighed and confessed:
“ Nothing but…I just miss being with Pascal or just being with someone”
“ I have the feeling that you had a very interrresting night, last night”
“ Don’t Joke about this Liz, it doesn’t mean that I cheated on Pascal and I wouldn’t forgive myself! When I think that I was the one worrying that he would find another doll in Belgium! Shame on me!”
She sighed again. Liza’s eyes were turning red under the influence of wine. Liza could make fun of her friends because she had decided to be an independent woman. She knew it would be heartbreaking to leave a serious relationship and fly all over the world as her job obliged.
She couldn’t remember the last time she had a stable relationship, perhaps at high school! That was the price she paid for working in the development world. In her younger days, she had already played the role of mistress for married husbands, one-night-lover for single, immoral and independent men and kisser for some women.
“It was just a feeling you had, nothing to dramatize about!” she said emptying another glass of wine. I am sure you will be able to wait for Pascal. He is a great guy. Don’t give up easily.
Kathleen sighed again.
“It’s hard, Liz…. It’s really hard!”
The gate bell rang and Liza ran to open. Nina who had promised to mix the cocktails arrived with several bottles of alcohol that she took from the trunk of her USAID Ford.
“Kat, meet a new friend of mine: Nina. She is in charge of cocktails and all beverages!”
She smiled at her two friends.
“Nina, meet a person dear to my heart, she embodies the Rwandan beauty and she spends her life saving lives. She will be preparing all snacks for tonight. And… she is wondering if she should replace or cheat on her fiancé. Don’t be shocked, it was just a thought!”
Kathleen wanted to strangle Liza for telling her secret to Nina but her friend was already a little bit drunk. How could she blame her?
“And I will be in charge of jokes and hooking up with all handsome men at the party, while the two of you will be serving guests and crying for your men who are not around to offer you a dance!”
Kathleen and Nina looked to each other and laughed. A new friendship was born as the women could share their international love stories.
That night when Kathleen talked to Pascal, it was with a sweet and soft voice, full of love and remorse.