I had been snoozing. I opened one eye, only to find a small crowd of people around the bed. Then I remembered where I was. I was in Ward C21 at the UTH, waiting for the operation tomorrow. I opened the other eye. I could see immediately that the people around my bed were my regular readers. All seven of them. I looked at them angrily. ‘Who told you I was in here?’
‘It’s not a secret that you’re in here,’ said Sally Chawama, ‘There’s even a story in today’s Daily Nation saying Kalaki says goodbye to all his readers as he leaves Kalaki’s Korner.
‘So if I’ve already said goodbye,’ I snapped, ‘what are you all doing here? You want me to say goodbye again. Goodbye. Shalenipo. I’m off!’ I pulled the blanket over my head.
‘That’s no way to talk to us,’ retorted Stella Sata. ‘All the years we’ve been reading you and then you just up and off like you don’t even care! And daddy’s very annoyed, he says you’re the only columnist who really understands him.’
‘Stella,’ I said, ‘what nonsense you do talk. If anybody understands your daddy it’s only you, the rest of us are completely mystified.’
‘You’re being very rude and most unfair,’ snapped Ruth Henson, who never minces her words. ‘The story in this morning’s paper says that you’ve left Kalaki’s Korner, and that you’re in the UTH for a serious operation. We’re very concerned. We want to know what’s wrong with you.’
I popped up out of the blanket and pointed a finger at Ruth. ‘I know your little farm is boring, with nothing to do except talk to the goats, and that you farmers count hospital visiting as a form of high entertainment, but you can’t come here asking me what’s wrong with me. I’m not one of your damn goats to be given a medical examination!’
‘Tut tut,’ said Dodson Siabwanta, as he turned in amazement to Mwila Zaza, ‘this fellow is just as insolent in real life as he is on the page!’
‘I knew that already,’ cackled Mwila, ‘He’s probably been at the brandy again. In fact you can be sure that’s why he’s in here. He’s got an enlarged liver. That’s what happens when you get hooked on the brandy.’
‘You can’t just all stand there talking to each other as if I’m not here!’ I shouted angrily.
‘Why not?’ sneered Symon Zulu, looking round at the other beds. That’s what all the other visitors are doing, so why should we be any different?’
‘More likely it’s an enlarged belly,’ declared Hope Nyambe as she unceremoniously prodded me through the blanket. ‘Look at the size of his gut! There could be all sorts of suspicious enlargements in there.’
‘It’s definitely not an enlarged heart,’ laughed Stella. ‘This old man is famously mean with his money.’
‘If it’s not an enlarged liver,’ declared Dodson, ‘it’s more likely an enlarged prostate. He’s just about the right age for that sort of thing. That’s why he doesn’t want to tell us what’s wrong. These old men will never admit that their equipment isn’t working.
‘Shut up, shut up, shut up!’ I sat up and shouted. ‘If you must know, the problem is that I’ve been suffering from an enlarged sense of humour.’
‘What nonsense,’ retorted Ruth. ‘It’s us that suffer from your sense of humour, not you.’
‘Look,’ I growled, ‘my job was to use my sense of humour to criticize politicians by making them look ridiculous. But with this current batch, it just wasn’t working.’
‘Why not?’ wondered Sally. ‘Are they not ridiculous?’
‘Of course they’re all entirely ridiculous,’ I admitted. ‘But the main problem is that they are extremely dangerous. While I have been making people laugh at them, I have deflected attention from the serious threat they pose to the nation.’
‘So you need an operation?’
‘You see, as my sense of humour has become enlarged, so it has squeezed all the other critical organs. My heart has been squeezed smaller, leaving me with diminished moral sense. My brain has been squeezed, limiting my analytical abilities. My nails can no longer scratch, my teeth can no longer bite, and my eyes are now so faded that I can see only the laughable and not the disastrous. My sense of humour has become so enlarged that it has encroached on all my other senses! I have no option but to have it amputated! First thing tomorrow morning!’
The next evening they all came to see me again. They found me sitting up in bed, glass of brandy in hand, reading the Complete Works of Jurgen Habermas.
‘My God!’ exclaimed Mwila, ‘this is very disappointing! We expected you to be still in a coma, and on a drip!’
‘Don’t interrupt me,’ I hissed, ‘I’m on the crucial chapter of Legitimation Crisis.’
‘Can’t we at least see the stitches?’ pleaded Stella.
‘There aren’t any,’ I replied.
‘No stitches,’ they all said sadly. ‘After we’ve come all this way!’
‘How can there be no stitches?’ said Ruth sternly.
‘Not necessary,’ I replied curtly. ‘When it saw the surgeon’s knife, my sense of humour immediately and completely disappeared.
This is the last edition of Kalaki’s Korner. Next month, beginning Wednesday 4th June, Kalaki begins his new career as a political analyst, with a weekly blog entitled The Spectator.