Chapter 14: The Deadly Chimenya Mix
Friday September 13th 2002
It was the last good day. The students swarmed the hall in droves, heading straight for the servers. The clamor of the Dining Hall could be heard long before you saw the gleam of its multiple windows. At least thirty long wooden tables stood in perfect equidistant rows on the left side of the hall. Lindani sat at one of the tables looking at the stream of students who passed her on their way to get food. The plate before her was empty. She had arrived early with Chikondi to get the best servings first but they had both changed their minds as soon as they saw what was on offer.
Mr. Chimenya, the head cook, had decided to try his hand at a new recipe. It was a concoction of fried mincemeat, tomatoes, onions, and carrots. Something about the way the oil clung to the rim of the large metal basin it was placed in made Lindani take a step back and opt for the vegetarian option of beans and eggs instead.
Khadija and Temwa sat at the table directly across from Lindani. Khadija was slowly picking at a piece of dried skin on her bottom lip, working it first with her tongue and then giving up and using her fingers. Her eyes were glued on a Form Four boy several feet away from her who, after pushing his way into line, was now stuffing his face with rice and mincemeat, his mouth open wide between each chew. Temwa pushed a white square box across the table which Khadija ignored, her eyes wandering from the boy back to the line of students eagerly holding out their plates for food.
Temwa stood up and walked over to their table, avoiding Chikondi’s glare and keeping her eyes on Lindani.
“Its Khadija’s birthday.” She said.
Lindani raised an eyebrow waiting for her to continue but Temwa seemed to be having a hard time finishing her statement.
“Okay…do you want us to come sing for her?”
Temwa’s face softened and she nodded with the hint of a smile. Lindani and Chikondi followed her. The white box lay open in front of Khadija, a round cake with pink frosting and the words “Happy Birthday Dija” was nestled inside. Temwa lit the candles one by one as they sang, the flames casting long shadows over the girls’ faces.
“Make a wish.” Temwa said.
Khadija closed her eyes, squeezing her whole face into a mask of concentration. She opened them and focused on one candle, the one wedged into the ‘12’ written in blue icing.
“I hope we don’t die too.” Khadija said.
She blew out the candle.
Friday September 13th 2002
They started to come at 8pm that evening. Boys and girls clutching their insides as pain ripped through them. Soon there was no more space in the wards and extra mattresses had to be set up in the main entrance and hallway. All the labs came back the same, a severe case of food poisoning brought on by semi-rancid meat.
It was Nurse Veronica’s second week on the job and she wanted to kick herself for thinking it would be a breeze. The bodies of sick students lay sprawled like limp flowers on the floor before her. She stepped gingerly around each one, leaning down to hand over a small container of pills and a bottle of water to every clammy pair of hands.
Two double doors led from the entrance hall to an enclosed courtyard. Veronica sat on the metal bench and looked up at the sky. The clinic was finally silent, the only sounds being the occasional groan of a student as they turned over. She stretched her aching feet and slowly gave in to the urge to drop her head into her right shoulder, her eyes closing-
Veronica practically fell off the bench. The crash had come from the lab and she raced over, stopping short when she found the door already ajar.
She pushed the door further open, poking her head into the gloom.
She stepped in, picking up a glass beaker that had fallen over on the table, the contents dripping onto the floor. The centrifuge machine was still whirling in the corner, the timer counting down the minutes until the blood settled.
Michael leaned over a cabinet, his lab coat on the floor beside him.
“Michael, thank God. I heard the crash and-.”
Veronica screamed. The figure leaning over the cabinet wasn’t Michael but one of the students. The dark circles under his eyes had deepened. A pool of vomit spread around him.
“Are you okay? What’s your name?” Veronica said
Veronica covered her nose as the smell of the vomit finally reached her. The flecks of red dotted amongst chunks of pulpy solids turned her stomach.
“Come on kid. Let’s get you back to bed.”
A commotion from the supply cabinet caught her attention. She walked over and wrenched the door open.
A Form Three girl stood inside, the same pulpy vomit spreading down her night dress. Michael, the lab tech, was pinned against the wall. The girl’s hand pressed firmly over his mouth and nose. He had almost lost consciousness and Veronica could see flecks of vomit straining though the girl’d fingers each time he coughed.
“What are you do-?”
A hand covered her mouth from behind and Veronica tasted the acrid vomit in her mouth before her head cracked on the side of the counter.