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The corridors were spotlessly clean, from the grey walls to the whitewashed ceiling, to the black and
white linoleum floor.
Turning a corner, he walked into a stern nurse. The nurse wanted to know who he was and why he
was loitering in a women’s hospital. Did he have business there?  Did he have permission to be
there?
It seemed the place was full of hard women who did not listen and tried to humiliate a man every
chance they got.
    “My wife has a baby,” he said to the nurse.
       “Why didn’t you say so?” She laughed, making it seem that she had been teasing him.
Now he remembered that the nurses enjoyed nothing better than to laugh at a man.
She pointed him in the opposite direction and warned him that visiting time was nearly over.
Down the corridor, a sterner nurse showed him to a glass window and ordered him to be gone by
the time she returned with the cleaner. Inside the viewing window was a vast room with rows of white
metal cots. A gloomy nurse was making the beds and tidying the room, talking to herself and to the
babies. She looked up when       Tomei stepped up to the window, smiled faintly and continued her
work.
He waited. She worked. He waited. Finally, afraid that the stern nurse would return to chase him out
before the gloomy nurse noticed him, he tapped on the window. She looked up, scowled at him, and
continued her work. He rapped again, louder. She ignored him until she had finished doing her
things. Then she approached the window.
“Speak up,” she ordered.
“Tomei.”
“What?”
“I want to see my baby,” he said. “Toma Tomei.”
The gloomy nurse consulted a register, muttering to herself as she ran her finger down the list.
There was no Toma Tomei on her list.
“I am Toma Tomei,” he said.
“What’s your baby’s name?”
“Name?”
“What do you call it?”
“Call it?”
Apart from the fact that he had not seen it to call it anything, babies were not named until it was
clear they would live, not die. She would have known that, had she not been a foreigner, perhaps
even an Out Worlder, as they all were, judging by their lack of proper respect for men.
“It was born last night,” he tried enlightening her.
It would be named Dark Warrior, Night Comer or something equally appropriate. But, for now, all he
wanted was to confirm that it was a boy.
“Wait,” she ordered.
He waited. She searched through the cots, peering at faces and reading nametags. She made a
round of the nursery. He waited. She took so long he again feared the sterner nurse would return
and send him away before he had seen his son. It had to be a son. He had sacrificed enough
chickens and goats to guarantee it. He had slaughtered roosters and brewed honey beer for the
spirits. Muti had assured him that this time he would succeed. This time he would have a son, a
giant among men, a warrior and a conqueror, a son like no other. This time he would be a man.
This time he would vanquish and silence all his enemies.
Then the gloomy nurse returned bringing him his baby, a tiny thing fitting snugly in the crook of her
arm, and so swathed with towels it seemed to be all towels and held it to the window for him to see.
“Baby Tomei,” she announced, with an air of triumph.
Tomei gaped. All the great names he had dreamed up for his son fled screaming out of his mind,
and left a dull, brain numbing ache in his head, a resounding emptiness.
“My baby?” he asked her.
“Your baby.”
She uncovered it for him to see and, sure enough, it was a boy.
“Baby Tomei,” she announced.
“My son?”
“Your son.”
He looked in the mirror, looked at the baby and back in the mirror again. Finally, he shook his head
resolutely.
“Look again,” he managed to say. “That one is not mine.”
“There’s no other Baby Tomei here,” she informed him.
He shook his head, his eyes twitching wildly.
“Are you all right?” she asked him.
He continued shaking his head, his mouth working but no voice coming out, and craning his neck to
see past her to the cots. She smiled encouragingly and held the baby to the window.
“He’s a fine boy, really,” she said. “Look he has got your fingers. He’ll grow so big and strong you
will hardly recognise him.”
Tomei went on shaking his head, his mind in turmoil. She saw it every day; men struck dumb at the
first sight of the fruit of their loins.
“Are you done then?” she asked, when it was clear she could not cheer him up.
He nodded just as resolutely and said he was done. But the matter was far from over. He wanted
answers and he wanted them now.
Inside the matron’s office, a few moments later, he listened bewildered as another hard woman told
him a strange story, and an even longer tale, that had nothing at all to do with his simple and
orderly world and made no sense whatsoever.
“You say it is not sick?” he asked her confounded.
“It is perfectly normal,” the Day Matron assured him.
“And it is not bewitched?”
“It is not witchcraft.”
“Why is it … different?” He asked her.
“Why?” she asked, exasperated. “Because it is different.”
It was a cramped office. Files and empty boxes lay all over the place. The shelves along the walls
were packed with more files and empty cartons. On one wall were two portraits of two white women,
one old and the other holding a baby. Tomei recognized the Madonna and Child, but he had never
heard of Mother Theresa, nor ever felt as outnumbered as he did now.
“Where is it from?” he asked the matron. “That is what I want to know.”
“It is a type, not a tribe,” she explained. “Very rare, but it happens.”
“How come I never heard of it?”
Such things never happened to his clan.
“It is extremely rare,” she explained, talking slowly and clearly, as to a child. “A strange but normal
thing.”
However, she went on to add, the strangest things were getting common every day.
“It is all the pills and things your wives take not to have babies,” she said to him. “The skin-
whitening creams and foreign soaps and things you make them use to beautify themselves; it’s a
wonder the babies are born with any skin at all.”
“Not my wife,” Tomei informed her.
His wife Grace was a real woman, a traditional woman. She did not need to change her face to
beautify herself for him. In fact, he would be very angry with her if she changed herself. But that
was not why he was here.
“Men!” They never ceased to amaze her. “It is not all about you, you know.”
“Not about me?” he asked startled.
“Not about men,” she laughed. “It is also about us women. We are not the beasts of burden and
baby machines you take us for, you know. We are people too; people with feelings and needs, just
like you. We need to look good, and to feel good too about our bodies and ourselves. We’d like to
be desired for things other than our fertility and our industry. To be desired for …”
“Desired?” Tomei was at a complete loss. “Why?  Desired by whom?”
“By our husbands,” she eased, “just by you. Not that it ever stopped a man from wandering.”
“Wandering?” What on earth was she talking about now?
And before he could begin to understand her, she was off on a different track, dragging him along
winding bush trails, full of wild and obscure ideas, he had never imagined existed. She told him of
cell formation, and of fertilisation and mitosis. She talked of things called chromosomes,
mitochondria and DNA, and about a dozen equally mystifying things that he had never heard of and
did not care to understand. It left a ringing in his ears.
“Were you there when the baby was born?” he asked, returning to the more pertinent issue.
“The Night Matron would tell you the same thing too, if she were here.. It is a natural phenomenon.”
“A what?”
“A natural occurrence.”
Tomei shook his head, scratched his chin and was lost for words.
“So, what do I tell the clan?” he asked himself.
“Exactly what I have told you,” she advised. “It is a natural phenomenon and nothing more. I am
sure the clan will understand.”
She did not understand at all, he now realised. The son had to be like the father; like the father in
every detail. He tried enlightening her.
She listened patiently while he educated her, moaning and groaning and grumbling about clans
and traditions, and about what it meant to be a man, until she wearied of him. Then she picked up
the phone and made a call to Nairobi to consult an expert. The expert confirmed what she had just
told Tomei, that it wasn’t anyone’s fault, and that he and his clan better start liking it, because, like it
or not, that was the way it was. That was it.
Tomei settled deeper in his chair, and it seemed he would not leave unless she told him something
he could understand. So she made one more telephone call, this one to a renowned doctor in
Canada. Professor Churchill confirmed that the boy was perfectly normal and would do just fine, if
they kept him out of the sun.
“Out of the sun!” Tomei shot to his feet. “What sort of chief doesn’t go out in the sun?”
“Sit down!” She ordered, slamming down the phone.
He was so startled he sat down immediately.
“What is your problem, man?” She was looking him in the eye, something he found troubling.
“My problem?”
“Your problem.”
“My problem?” He tried to think of a language that a woman could understand. “When you plant
millet …”
“Millet?”
“Yes, millet,” he said it slowly so she could keep up. “When you plant millet, you don’t expect …”
“Millet?”
Obviously, she did not get it.
“What I am saying is,” he tried again, slower still, “when you plant sorghum, you don’t get …”
“Sorghum?” She laughed suddenly, startling him. “What have sorghum and millet got to do with
your baby? Are you saying that you did not plant this seed?  Is that what you are saying?”
“What I am saying is …” he persisted, refusing to be sidetracked.
“That your wife slept with another man?”
“What I am saying …”
“Will you stop meandering in the bush and say what you mean?”
He was near despair. Why was it always so difficult for women to understand?  He shook his head
confounded, cramped his mouth shut and decided he would not utter another word to her.
“According to my records,” she said, opening her register and turning the pages, “only two babies
were born here last night. One of them was …”
She stopped suddenly, and examined the records closely, looking puzzled and raising his hopes.
The last entry was hardly legible. It seemed to indicate that two babies had been delivered at
approximately the same time. Most of the entry was a jumble of figures and letters that did not have
to make any sense to the visitor. In any case, one mother had left for Nairobi with her baby, right
after delivery, and, so far, there had been no complaints from anyone other than Tomei.
“What I am saying is,” Tomei tried again, “when you plant black-eye beans, you don’t expect …”
“Rice?”
“You do understand,” he sighed with relief. “You do understand.”
“Understand?” She laughed explosively and slapped the register shut. “You’d be surprised the
things I have seen here. Just last week, a mother delivered eight babies. Imagine that. Eight babies.
Here I am, expecting one, maybe two babies and she drops eight on me. Can you see that?  Eight
tiny boys, one after the other?  Even goats don’t do that anymore. One minute she is childless, the
next she has too many. Just like that. And there sits her husband, exactly where you sit now, with an
ego as large as a beer gourd, swearing that only one of the eight is his. He sat exactly where you
are now refusing to believe his own eyes. And you think you have a problem?  A problem?  Just
because you don’t like the way your baby is?  You should thank God he has any eyes at all.”
Tomei thought about it, shook his head.
“I cannot accept this,” he concluded.
“His words exactly,” said the matron.
“I will not accept it!” He was decided.
“Accept?” wondered the matron. “The baby is already here, your wife is happy with it, so what is
there to accept?”
Tomei stormed to his feet.
“You are all alike,” he informed her.
Then he strode to the door and slammed it behind him.
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THE BOY GIFT
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