by Wongile M.
In pieces I stirred to consciousness. I felt the impression of a thin soft blanket on my skin, the humidity of the room and the drip pinching on my wrists. My eyes opened. I slowly searched the room for familiar faces among the beds that crowded the room. I saw none. I shut my eyes again and fell asleep. I awoke to a woman changing my drip she was dressed in a hazard suit. I wanted to ask her where I was and what I was doing there but I was too weak to speak. She looked down at me with a painful expression that I couldn’t decipher. I watched as her whiteness disappeared into the darkness.
My mind plays images of me playing dodge-ball with sister race through my mind. Thandanani laughs and threatens that this ball will “kill me” for sure. The ball accelerates towards me and I lift my feet sending thousands particles of dust into the air. My legs freeze straight in the air as the ball passes. I reach the ground…breathless from the physical exertion and exhilaration.
“Where am I?” I asked when the woman re-appears.
“In a clinic…your family brought you here yesterday. You have Ebola.”
Her words were cold and painful to my ears, like pieces of hail falling on one’s head.
“Where are they?” I wanted to ask. “Where is my mother…Thandanani…my father?” I wanted to scream, but my strength failed me and I only managed to produce a choked sigh.
“Your family isn’t allowed in here” she continued.
I wanted to ask why not. But my voice failed me. There was something about the nurses cold eyes that made me shrink inside.
I don’t know how long I slept. Lucid images flashed in my mind of amayi.
‘You have to eat.” She said gently as though she was speaking to a baby.
“I don’t feel like eating.” I said glancing at the maize porridge in the bowl. It was cold now and looked even less appetizing than before.
“Magodise, you have to eat so you can give your body the strength to fight the malaria in you.”
With a defeated look, she placed it aside.
“I feel hot.” I moaned. “And cold.”
Thandanani took a wet face towel that was hunging on the bed post and started pressing it against my forehead. The coldness of the towel against my inflamed skin soothed me.
I was so thirsty I looked around for amayi and Thandanani. I looked around the room it was filled with frail looking women and crying children. No mothers to comfort their children. The room stank of sickness. Sickness has a smell I vaguely considered, it was hot, dry, rusty and sticky. sickness was an unpleasant new smell trying to mask itself with bleach, but I knew it, I could recognise even if I’d never known it before.
I heard woman next to me call the nurse. The woman asked the nurse to change her sheets. They were covered in blood she complained. The nurse in a condescending tone told her there were no more sheets. I turned the other side to escape the nurse’s loud voice. There was a little girl much younger than me, maybe eight who lay so still in her sleep. The nurse finally came near where I was. I asked her for water. She gave it to me with an expression that let me know I was bothering her. She went to the little girl’s bed and turned her then went outside. She came back with two men in hazard suits and they took the girl outside the room.
“Where are they taking her?”
“She is dead. She has been dead since morning ” the woman who had complained about the bed sheets said in an agitated voice.
“What will they do with her body? Will they return it to her family?”
“No they will bury it in a mass grave near here in a plastic bag and burn everything she ever touched.”
I didn’t know the girl but my heart pitied her. She had been alone in here without a mother and now she was going to be buried alone. Even in death she was separated from her family.
I struggled to sleep that night with my thoughts on that little girl. What if I died? Would I too be taken and buried in a plastic bag. Would my family attend the funeral? Would I have a funeral? Why weren’t they visiting me? Another little girl was brought into the bed the other girl slept in.
Mai Mabvuto seeing that I was awake started telling me about her family. She told me how her last born had Ebola.
“I didn’t want to bring her to the clinic because I knew they wouldn’t let me see her. So I used to make her drink holy water that I got from Nigeria. I tried not to touch her. But she was in so much pain she kept crying. I couldn’t watch my child suffer like that. I wanted to hold her and sooth her. So I did. She died in my arms.”
I wept as she told me. Where was my mother? She had just dropped me off at this clinic while I slept. Did they think I would survive? Even if I survived, would they welcome me with open arms or would they cast me aside as people had been doing with the few that had survived this plague. I thought of the little girl that died next to me and how she was buried in a plastic bag. She was forever separated from her family. Ebola had not just robbed her of her life. It had robbed her of love. It had robbed us all of our dignity. We had become statistics in a lost war.
Mai Mabvuto spent the next dying. She bled as her head and heart thumped erratically.
I watch as they take her body out of the clinic ready to put it in a plastic bag. I cling on to life. I refuse to die and be separated from my family’s love forever. I refuse to be a statistic….