Home 9 Literary Archive 9 Fiction & CNF 9 A Waiting Room

A Waiting Room

by Rory Kilalea.


  1. Rhodesia is to become Zimbabwe after a bitter bush war. Britain has sent personnel to join the Commonwealth Monitoring Force to oversee a peaceful transition. This is a story from the time.


The waiting room was packed with women. Some with children streaming colds, niggling under the tables, and scuffling under the chairs. There was the expectant hush of all doctor’s surgeries.

Waiting. For an appointment, the results of tests. The fear, “I’m sorry I have some bad news”.

Diana closed the door and peered into the room. She was surprised to see so many people there for a Friday morning. Only one older man, flicking through a knitting magazine.

Muffled shrieks behind the doctor’s door.

“That’ll do!” A less muffled mother.

“Now, now . . .” a male, quiet, soothing, medical voice. The waiting room listened.

A peas-in-a-pod shop, thought Diana, as she curled into a seat. A child scurried behind a chair, watching. Diana tried to stop her hands shaking as she picked up a magazine, cross that she’d forgotten to bleach the nicotine stains off her nails.

The peas sat back in silence, watching the doctor’s door, knowing that once they went through, they would be the most important pea in the room.

A tired-looking mother looked up from a pile of magazines in her lap. A diet-glazed woman came out of the doctor’s room. “Thank you so much, doctor,” she sang.

Thank you for what? thought the waiting room.

“Mr. Houlton?” Eyes flicked. The knitting magazine man jumped up too quickly, knocking fashion periodicals off the mother’s lap. He fumbled desperately. The starched nurses’-voice barked, politely impatient, “Next Please!”. He tried to place a magazine back in the woman’s lap. “We must stop meeting like this!” he joked. Too intimate. The tired mother looked through him.

Valium, thought Diana.

The man skipped through the door. “Wrenched my back, jogging, Doc!” he shouted too loud.

“Call Ups will be over soon, Mr. Houlton. The war is nearly over. You won’t have to train so hard then, will you?”

The room was quiet, holding its breath, waiting for him to betray secrets or say something that would change their lives. Give them hope. “Bloody shame they’ll be over, hey Doc? Got used to war.” The door closed on them.

The waiting room relaxed.

“Cortezone for the rest of his life, if he insists on training with men half his age,” Diana remarked and lit a cigarette.

“Flirting like a young soldier!” spat the cross mother, retrieving the remaining magazines from the floor. Nobody offered to help.

“You allowed to smoke in here?” asked a vacant woman in a caustic tone.

Diana glared. She would do as she pleased. She was allowed. She was angry, she was bitter. She had become a victim.

And it hurt.

Come and see me in England, honey. That was his airport speech to her. “Damn him!” she muttered, startling the flu-child playing fantasies behind her seat.

Diana inhaled extravagantly.

The vacant woman took her kid away from the smoke with emphasis.

He was one of the Brits, seconded to Africa, to oversee the transition from white to black rule. Some were tough soldiers. Many were drunkards. Most were married.

The war was nearly at an end. Their waiting was nearly over. Rhodesia would become Zimbabwe. These men would guide the country into the future.

And Donald.

Fuck! Why did she allow herself to fall in love? She should have known. She was forty-six years old with three marriages, and a nearly successful suicide. Her blowsiness shrieked her demand for love. What else was there? They were trapped . . . waiting for the war to end.

Until Donald.

How did he come into her life? She assumed she was drunk. Anti-depressants and drink had that effect. She enjoyed the feeling.

Her doctor knew. As he also knew that the waiting room full of women were the same. “War has that effect,” he shrugged. So often that people thought he had a twitch.

Diana scrabbled in her bag for another cigarette. She knew it would taste foul.

They had smoked, made love, and drank through the night. I need you, baby, she heard herself saying. I need you so much.

Donald’s body reacted quickly. It always did. She was like a plump cat. Long black hair, heavy eyes, pendulous breasts swinging up to him.

She did need him. He had known it from the moment he met her. It attracted him, made him feel manly. And the sex was terrific. Orgasm wasn’t a physical sensation for her. It was a mental trip.

Africa was a four-month moment in his life. She waited, wanted him to commit.

But he didn’t.


She was not part of his plans. Thirty-six-year-old military men don’t need millstones in their careers.

I love you baby, she said, a voice like a purr.

There was also his wife and kids. She was army stock. A major’s daughter. Good connections. Promotion opportunities.

“You are smoking too much.” The doctor twitched.

“I know,” she confessed, hoping this was the end of small talk.

“Technically, these tranquillizers are too strong for your condition.”

He wasn’t going to refuse her? Diana smiled, leaned her cleavage forward, willing him to give her the pills.

“It’s really too soon . . . far too soon . . . to re-prescribe.” Conscience–salving small talk.

Diana smiled again. Licked her lips. Wasted. He was already writing out the tired prescription. “We’ll give you a full physical next visit.”

Diana purred, “Three weeks?”

He winced. They weren’t fooling each other.

“You’ll have forgotten me in three weeks.” The aircraft deafened her sobs. When you can afford it, come and visit, honey.

The four months had to mean something? Take care, he said.

She waved at a meaningless window. Donald sighed as he took his seat on the plane. He might return to Africa, some day. There were advantages.

Her strangled arm rubbed away the smear of mascara.

Donald clipped his lap strap. This Africa trip was a success for his military career. And he did not have the clap.

Diana crumpled up her tissue and felt her way to the airport bar, packed with officers, diplomats, and weeping relatives.

“May I get you a drink?”

Diana turned to a man addressing her cleavage. She tossed her head, to dismiss him from her mind. “Yes.”

The high-pitched whine of the plane shrieked through the room. “They did a pretty good job, those Brits.”

A pretty good job.

She felt the lights of the plane disappear. “I don’t have the airfare,” she said.

“Sorry?” said the man with the drink.

The engines faded away.

“Campari and soda, lovely lady.” A diplomatic hand lingered a fraction too long on hers.

She smiled. “Thank you.” The drink felt good.

He watched her repair her make up. “Are you free later?”

She laughed. Donald would be jealous. Men at the bar, ogling, envious of the man supplying her with drinks. “Maybe,” she purred.

The hand slipped onto her knee. Donald’s knee.

“How much do you charge?”

Diana gasped. The room felt dense again. She fumbled with her powder compact, spilling tranquilizers over the floor.

See me in England, honey.

How long will I have to wait?

He smiled.

The man helped her retrieve her pills.

And then she began to laugh. Peals of hope in the bar.

The hand got less diplomatic. Slipping under her skirt.

“How much do you think?” she whispered on their way out. Their laughter only stopped for a three-minute grunt on the backseat of her car.

They settled on $150.00. She laughed as she counted the money.

The doctor stood up and handed her the prescription.

“See you in three weeks then?”

“Three weeks doctor,” she agreed, grasping the prescription.

“Relax a little, go out and meet new people.”


The door opened.

The waiting room looked up.

Anti-depressants, they thought.


Rory Kilalea is a writer from Zimbabwe. When not writing, he lectures on ‘Script to Screen’ courses around the world as well as adjudicating drama and writing Festivals. Films he has been involved with include Jit (1990); A Dry White Season and the majority of Anti-Apartheid Films shot in Africa, including Power of One and Cry Freedom.

He has taught broadcasting, writing and performance at the University of Zimbabwe as well as improvisational drama at the British Council in Athens, London, Johannesburg, the Metfilm School London, and in the Middle East.

Sometimes writing under the pen-name, Murungu, his poetry and short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies in countries that range from Ireland; Malaysia; South Africa; the United Kingdom; the United States and Zimbabwe.

His writing includes the collection of short stories, The Arabian Princess & Other Stories (Zodiac Publishing, 2002); “Whine of a Dog” which was shortlisted for the Caine Prize 2000; “Zimbabwe Boy” which appears in Asylum 1928 and Other Stories (Fish Publishing, 2001) and was shortlisted for the Caine Prize 2002; and “Unfinished Business” which appears in Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe (Weaver Press, 2005).

In 2005, one of his plays, “Zimbabwe Boy,” was adopted for the Africa Festival at the London Eye and has been performed at the National Theatre in London. Other plays he has written include “Ashes”; “Diary of David and Ruth” and “Colours.”

He won the Oxfam Award for his one act play ‘Colours’ in 2010 and his short stories ‘George’ and ‘A Waiting Room’ are available on Botsotso.

Rory is drawn to stories of marginalized people and wrote and directed a documentary to raise money for neglected leprosy patients in Mutoko Zimbabwe. His latest novel, awaiting publication, is a tense thriller where two street kids are threatened by abduction and murder for witchcraft. His current work is a comic set of short stories about film productions visiting Africa, and their wild expectations – sort of a Tom Sharpe take on goodly filmmakers.


  • Caine Prize Finalist – 2000 Short story – Whine of a Dog
  • Caine Prize Finalist – 2002 Short Story – Zimbabwe Boy
  • The ‘I’ Word – Short Story – 2013 Edited by Kate Gould (UK)
  • Colours – Short Story/Play – 2012 Ashgrove Publishing. (UK)
  • Weaver Press – Co-Editor. Educational book for Africa of theatre/radio plays.
  • Writing Still – Short stories 2005 – Weaver Press
  • Oxfam Award – 2010 – Colours – One Act Play
  • Short Story – George – 2022 Botsotso
  • Short Story – A Waiting Room – 2023 Botsotso

‘Colours’ was adapted into a radio play by Rory for the BBC and has been filmed as a one-hour programme for MetFilm London.