“Mom, didn’t you tell us that you were always number 1 in your class and that you always got straight As in all subjects?” Nekesa’s son asked her, a very puzzled expression on his face.
“This coronavirus!” Nekesa muttered, her palms starting to sweat. You see, in this time of Coronavirus, parents have become teachers. Until now, some parents were safe in the knowledge that their alleged straight A, top of the class, walked 13 miles to school, uphill both ways and all done barefoot stories would never be tested. Once, Nekesa’s son had questioned the veracity of the uphill both ways story, seeing as unless Nekesa’s childhood home moved farther uphill each morning, then that story was a physical improbability. Nekesa had pulled the ukali card and that had shut him up.
The truth of the matter was that Nekesa and numbers were like oil and water. She had never liked or trusted math. Something about math did not make sense to her, and the minute she completed her math paper in her secondary school finals, she had walked away from math and never looked back. It was a toxic relationship and she was done. When her father had seen her dismal F in math, he had remarked that she must have earned that grade by correctly spelling her name and nothing else.
Thirty odd years after the nightmare of her final math exam, she thought of ways to save face in front of her child. Silence stretched between them, her son looking at her expectantly, mistaking the frown on her face for deep concentration. Little did he know that the specter of calculus had resurrected long buried nightmares she wished to keep that way. In that moment, she wished that her husband, a doctor at Nairobi hospital, who was fighting to keep patients alive, was home. He and his son were numbers people. When they saw numbers, they did not run for the nearest exit. They gravitated towards them, probed them, re-arranged them, tried to make sense of them. Nekesa did not possess any of these inclinations. And so she stood there, staring at the book, when a miracle happened.
“Nimepata toilet paper** na mkate!” Her housekeeper, a stocky lady who had worked for Nekesa’s family since her son was a baby, announced triumphantly, holding the toilet paper and bread up high, like a prize she had won in a bitterly fought contest. And knowing her, one or two people may have been elbowed out of the way in the process, in direct contravention of social distancing rules extolled by Dr Fauci and his well-informed brethren in all countries. Nekesa suddenly became engrossed in the storage of the toilet paper and upcoming dinner plans. Coronavirus had robbed her of her right to congregate, move freely and sing in her church choir, but she would be damned if she would also let it rob her of her dignity.
Her son decided to wait for his father to get home, after all, numbers zina wenyewe.
**You see, in the days of Coronavirus, when we hang on to every word Dr Fauci and his brethren spoke, and like the good students we were, sheltered in place, toilet paper was a prized possession. It was almost a status symbol to say, “I have 20 rolls”, to which I imagine those not so lucky would cluck their tongues in envy, amazed at the big roller’s planning skills.