now is the point in the story when the character begins to be pulled
towards a future he thought would never come. the character,
however, cannot appreciate any signs of movement. he still
measures days in the same way; from dawn to dusk. he has learned
that the future beyond that is not something that can accommodate
feelings as narrow as certainty.
when a patient is asked her age, she often smiles. she doesn’t
know. maybe twenty? when is your birthday? she
you go to meet someone for an appointment. he is not in, you are
told. when should I come back, you ask. when he is in, the
answer. when might that be? when he is here.
I discharge a family from the feeding centre and ask them to come back
on Sunday so that I can make sure the child is growing. my
translator laughs. there is no Sunday, he says. I tell him
to tell her to come back in five todays. he translates, then
turns to me. she says she will come back. unless she
it is that way. one day. it took me some time to learn the
cadence. it is why even though I know I will leave here in two
weeks, I have a difficult time understanding it. this is a
point where I should be stock taking, measuring what happened, trying
to make the most of the little time that remains. but time is
measured in todays, not tomorrows, nor yesterdays, nor birthdays, nor
deathdays. only now, and just after now.
we were talking today about how nonplussed parents are about their sick
infants, how they can say they will be right back, and leave for hours,
sometimes for days. how even our nurses will leave a drowsy,
dehydrated baby sitting in her mother’s arms while they organize the
cupboard better. it seems, and I have been told, that they
are reluctant to invest too much in them. they are the most
fragile, and the most easily lost. in a famine, the little food
goes to the oldest, the strongest. they are the most likely to
live. the youngest goes hungry, gets weaker, and soon there is
one less mouth to feed. women with families of four have watched
as many die.
from what I have seen, and what I can glean, the loss is no easier than
it is for grieving parents in Canada. the women love their
children, mournly them deeply. they have seen, though, that the
line between life and death is a thin one, and must feel that whether
it ruptures or not is beyond their control. the raw law of
nature is too close and everyone can feel its hot breath. at
home, we fret over antioxidants, try to bargain a few extra
minutes. we watch nature on tv.
I left my tukul, just now, to find a cigarette. writing about
dying makes one care less about picking nits with his own
health. as I stepped outside, margret said to me, “you know
that little failure to thrive kid, the one with the grandmother?
he just died.”
I saw him an hour ago, and he looked fine, awake, stretching his wasted
arms towards an offered cup of milk. and in that hour, these past
sixy minutes where I returned home to eat lunch on my day off and
started to write, in the sixty minutes where those of you in Toronto
were having your morning coffee and folding the Focus section of the
globe flat onto your breakfast table, and those of you in Alberta were
getting your last minutes of quiet sleep, during one of them, he fell
from the fence. how can that be?
it seems that the rupture remains beyond my control. I don’t know what else to do.
I don’t write these things with the intent of making anyone sad.
it is simply the way it is. be sure, there are as many happy
things happening in abyei today. a baby is born. a man
falls in love. someone received a letter from a wife he thought
lost in kenya, and she is coming here, to abyei, after all these years
and he is so excited he doesn’t know whether to sit down or stand
up. all of these things, at the same time. the good ones,
and the hard ones. but for all of them, as for me, as for you, we
don’t know which we will meet as the dawn breaks into the open
sky. the only thing we can be certain of, is that for all
of us, the day will draw to a close.