The boy died.
I think he would have lived, though. If their perfumes had not snuffed out the only, albeit slim, chance he had left.
Six days they had been in church, praying and doing God knows what else. They most definitely were cleaning poop and vomitus anyway because that’s what they said he had been doing – pooing and vomiting – nonstop besides running a fever all the while. By day 4, the boy could hardly sit up straight let alone stand. And by then, he had stopped pooing loose stool, it was all just clear fluid. They said he was an olomi and whoever is an olomi in these parts they don’t give too much water to drink. It’s said that the more water they drink, the more they shrink until they shrivel up and die. So, they didn’t give him water to drink, even when he was strong enough to cry out for water.
Day 6, he could hardly respond to anyone calling out his name. His mother called him, shook him, tugged on his arms but all he did was roll his eyes. That was when they stopped swiveling to the entrancing drum beats that accompanied their melodramatic prayers. With her heart palpitating and eyes freely tearing, his mother heaved him onto her shoulder and walked out of the church. The incense kept burning right where they left it.
There was just a nurse at the nearest basic health center, there was no doctor. The child was to be referred to the general hospital which was kilometers away. The nurse knew he’d die before getting there. She knew she could give him a chance by giving intravenous normal saline. She was going to site an IV line when she suddenly began to have difficulty breathing. She was asthmatic. The dense smell of incense on them had exacerbated her asthma. The incense was bent on doing its job apparently – why burn for 6 days without snuffing out a witch?
The nurse needed her inhaler. The child needed an IV line. The inhaler was now more important than the line. While she sought that, the child gave his last few gasps.
They found a witch but lost the boy.
He hurried out the back door, stopped a few yards away from it and paced the ground outside uneasily. A woman’s voice was hurled after him; it promised to serve him due retribution once he entered the house again. He was mum, his shoulders made his speech as he shrugged in defiance. No one talked for a while and everything seemed calm except for stones kicked about by his restless feet and dust raised as he paced the ground like a fugitive. He later sat on what used to be a living section of a living tree’s trunk, eyes darting furtively now and then. There was peace. Until his grandfather crept out of a wall of bush behind which he’d just dispatched the excesses of his aged life and bitterly expressed his distaste for the boy. You are wasting yourself! granny cried. The old man then picked up a bucketful of water that had been left to warm under the blistering sun and headed for the small square of corrugated metal sheets that served as bathroom. His voice – Bastard child! Child with a bad head! Ne’er-do-well! – rose above the splash of waters as they fell on his head and ran down his face onto the square patch of cement that he stood on.
The words settled splat on the boy’s head.
My name’s Atim. And for some reason not unknown to me i’m numb to all these end of the year hullabaloo. everyone this season is being worked into a frenzy buying mistletoe and stringing glowing bulbs in in every possible vantage point. In the homes. On the street. But i’m trapped. In-between the need for glee and the reality of grief. Hopeful that time will do the latter great disservice. Because this shouldn’t continue for too long…
My name’s Atim. High School dropout. Male. I’m Atim because Mother named me before i was born and before she could open her eyes to see that i wasn’t female. She never got up from that bed alive. I was told. She left as i came. A life for a life. That’s what her smile says every time i wake to behold her in the wood-framed picture placed against a background of exfoliating wall paint. My Mona Lisa.