This morning I arrived to a quiet blue bundle on the wards first bed
The cleaner, his beard dyed henna red
Waiting patiently to clean the plastic below
A boy, newly dead
A family of cats lives in the cupboard where we store the mosquito nets. During the hot afternoon the mother lies outside of it's door, panting, just beyond her mewling children's sweeping paws.
Yesterday, as I was leaving for the day, a young girl was dropped onto a still warm stained bed sobbing sweating, crusts of infection tracking from her ear. Her head was torted so fully to the right that her eyes looked behind her. and she pushed mightily on that ear, trying to get straight enough to repel me better but could not. This morning she was sleeping, her head still turned, but the fever gone. Minutes later, I watched through the wire as she walked beside her mother in a trailing orange scarf looking sideways at a tilted world.
I turned to the woman in front of me, twenty, and asked her why she was not breastfeeding her baby. She became bashful and turned away. She doesn't because she's already pregnant again, the nurse said. It's still ok, i answer, but this battle is one I've yet to win. How many children does she have so far? The one in her stomach is her fifth. Five? So young. How many will she have? Many, many, his answer .
And you, i ask him. How many children will you have? Ten, he says. Ten? Yes. My heart is too big for any less. I have too much love.
The next in line is a breathless girl, old enough to be in the hospital alone, her mother at home with the youngest. I sat beside her and placed the bell of my stethoscope on her back. As I listened, her hands trembled bravely.
A father pushed through the door carrying his dangling dehydrated daughter, in his fingers a card marked "urgent" that matched the look in his wide eyes. He paced back and forth past rows of beds, not knowing which, if any, was his. One of our staff, in a smart shirt, took the paper from his hand and said on she's for the feeding centre and pointed him out. No, I said, he's walked enough. For now we'll let him lay his dying daughter here.
Today, when we walked to the ward we were met with a chorus of cries from 31 patients, their mothers and sisters wrapped in scarves and bright dresses, stretched on beds below blue mosquito nets waving hospital cards over their bare children. Beside the first, a sad family stood, the cleaner beside them, patient as charon, his beard dyed henna red.
They knew not their new home nor the right ground for the dead, lost from weeks walking, sharing the boy on their backs,
the sun high overhead.
So we wait for a car to ferry them to their new, bare ground: one patch for a house of sticks another for the quiet blue bundle between them. Behind my desk, the cat arches herself from the behind the cupboard's cracked door, lands softly, stretches on the dusty brown floor.