Fieldset
twenty-four

"I am trying to paint a picture of abyei, but all I have are hurried, infrequent strokes."

I am trying to paint a picture of abyei, but all I have are hurried, infrequent strokes.

Yesterday, after dinner I was sitting in the open space of our compound. Our night is again moonless. Ink. Overhead a flock of white birds flew, fluttering in the black night like pieces of paper. They landed in our tree, and noisily settled in for the night.

I made my bed under it. The shuffling wings mixed with the voices of my neighbours and the tinny music playing on their radios. The air smelled of dust, and the sharp odor of burning plastic.

I woke at dawn, too tired to run. The birds were gone. The sky was cloudless. I folded my mosquito net, and shook the dust from my sheets. The smell of plastic still hung in the air.

On my way to the hospital, 480 paces away, I passed children on donkeys and men on bicycles. I answered them, fine, how are you. I am fine. Plastic bags blew by with the gusts of wind and were carried into the open field nearby where they fluttered, thousands strong.

I passed two sisters. The youngest, ten, was dressed in a white dress, frills on the shoulder. It was torn and it’s white choked with dust. Still, no princess ever looked more important.

I am somehow sick again. I returned from the hospital for lunch, and was in the middle of a feverish dream (organizing something, again, what, again), when I was called to the hospital. A woman had been run over by a car. I opened the door to the emergency room, and saw the piece of white bone pushed from her leg glistening brightly.

Later, a large truck pulled into our road, and backed up to our gates. They carried from the box a stretcher with a woman and her new baby on it. Twins, we were told. One delivered, the other not. We took her to the delivery room and removed the blanket. Between her legs, an arm. A tiny blue arm. I touched it, and the skin came loose. How many days ago was the delivery. Six. Six days. Six days ago, a baby was born, and her brother, almost. He made it to his shoulder, and finding nothing to hold onto, went no further.

I saw a child in our feeding centre, our TFC, whose mother carried with her two pieces of wood. What for, I asked. Well, my translator explained, when she was born, there were three. Now she is the only one. So her mother cut two pieces of wood and said, these, these are your brothers. How long will she keep them, I asked. Forever, he said.

It is later that same day. Near dusk. I am sitting in the compound, in our only covered area. It is hot. Generators clatter and donkeys bray. Soon the call to prayer. Still the sharp smell of plastic.

Just to my left, our nurse is giving our logistician a haircut. Our midwife has just handed me a mirror to inspect my own sorry state. I need both a haircut and a shave. I look tired.

The radio just crackled beside me. I am on call. Now, I will walk to the kitchen (…call to prayer…) and eat what I can, then make my bed. I will shake my sheets, tuck in my mosquito net. And once I am done with whatever night business the hospital has in mind, I will fall asleep. 24.