This and that with Maluphosa - Futhisifani!
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After treating one 'les be an' suffering from 'eye-thritis', my next patient was an old woman of roughly 78; frail looking from famine, and short-sighted from old age. She had on some contraption which could pass for spectacles - held together by thick, soiled mounds of trinapone around scratched and cracked lenses, themselves aligned by use of a strip each of cellophane.
She walked with an exaggeratedly vigorous limp, which gave her a hesitant gait as she contemplated her next stride. Her long torn skirt stuck to her thighs due to the over-charge of static. She had an edematous left side of face, which gave her the shape of someone who had just suffered a mild cardio-vascular accident.
Her woolen hat, tilted to one side to cover partly the swollen part, enhanced the stroke appearance. Her left arm was thrust into a dirty duke-cum arm sling pulled so high the elbow pointed mockingly to the ground below. Her face told of severe pain, distress and panic. She looked subdued physically and exhausted mentally, and her eyes darted all over the room as if in search of an emergency exit. She squinted as she tried to recognize the face behind the desk. I had recognized her, in spite of her structurally adjusted face. She was a regular at the health centre â€“ collecting her anti-hypertensive drugs every month, or with some un-diagnosable psychosomatic condition or other every week.
She had on tow, two little girls as always. The three year old had extensive blisters of lower limbs which enfolded her legs like sinister translucent stockings. There was a dusty rag right round her left foot and another stuck to her where her left ear had been. Her mouth was slightly open into a pout to welcome a mixture of watery mucous and tears that flowed incessantly down her cheeks. She swallowed noisily, like a thirsty over-aged calf. She looked horrified and nestled against her grand-mother like a second fast-coat.
The five year old also had a thick corduroy rag around her right hand and another to her foot and fore-head and occiput. Her nostrils discharged blood-stained thick mucous which she whiffed and sniffed black unsuccessfully. Most of it was wiped to her bruised left cheek with the back of her right hand. She had on a dress that was too many sizes too large, giving her the look of a hopeless Somalian refugee. From her badly battered temporal zone oozed thick septic serous fluid. It flowed down to disappear behind her ear, like many tiny rivulets against an insurmountable dam wall, to reappear as one wide shiny river on the mandible, and disappear again as it got absorbed by the woolen scarf around her neck. She walked with an exaggerated limp too; stepping on her heel instead of the whole foot, as if doing some kind of archaic savage dance routine. Both girls had faces of wise old men and desperately needed a bath. The old lady had a school shoe on one foot and a brown sebele on the other. Surprisingly, the shoes were torn uniformly on the outer side, revealing the side of foot decorated with a crisp pattern of criss-crossing contours of cracks. The large toes protruded and pointed sky-wards, like a tortoise surveying the surroundings for any air-borne predators.
The girls shuffled forward as the old lady dumped herself onto the chair. They cuddled against her on one side, eyes pleading for mercy and faces contorted in genuine pain and uncertainty. There were no imaginary coughs or head-aches this time around, little imps, I thought to myself. No excuse to play truant. This time it was real! The consultation room reeked of charred inedible flesh!
I exchanged a few uneasy formalities with the old lady; the weather, the famine, the astronomical cost of non-existent goods, and the two beauties that accompanied her, deliberately avoiding the imminent by-election.
"Beauties mkhwenyana!" I waited for her to continue but she could only slap her thigh with her free hand and mutter inaudibly.
"What can I do for you mama?" I asked, business-like.
"We were injured." She was not willing to give details. Either she relished being the sole focus of my attention or she had lost trust for anyone who worked for the government. She looked lost in thought as she held her grand-daughters closer with her good hand.
"Tell me more." I begged. "We were beaten." Again, she turned her attention to the little girls, brushed their heads with her hand and pulled them even closer to her trembling body.
"We were beaten." She said a third time as if I had not heard the first time. They said we voted for DC and we were sell-outs." She was silent for again, eyeing me cautiously. It was clear she wanted my opinion or sympathy; she did not get any. She merely draped her grand-daughters with her weak dehydrated wrinkled arm and said nothing. I was getting impatient and the queue was getting longer out-side.
"You still haven't told me what your problem is, mama. And I cannot help you unless I know what brought you here."
"We were beaten, my son. As you can see, this one here", she pointed to one of the girls, "had her finger, toe and ear cut with a piece of bottle fragment. She concluded, almost out of breath as she tried to swallow a deluge of tears. She took out a snuff coloured cloth from her breast and wiped away the tears. The girls saw this and also began to cry silently. The old lady looked blankly into space, like someone on hallucinogens. She reminded me of my aunt when her husband was pounded to death by over-zealous red bereted soldiers in 1985. I was moved: I began to cry too, silently, like a man should. It was unethical to display such a sign of weakness, especially to people who look upon you for solutions, solace, soothing and strength. I swallowed noisily from anger, stood up, went into the next room, wiped my face and came back braver and more professional.
She continued without any egging; "This one here was immersed in boiling water, legs first," she said, pointing at the wrong girl. "They also cut off her - her â€“ her- ,"she broke off crying again. The girls fretted and cleared their throats.
"What about the girls? They did not vote, did they?" I enquired.
They wanted the girls to tell them where their parents were hiding."
"But these are orphans, aren't they?'
"Exactly, my son. What kind of animal would do this to orphans?" She looked me straight in the eye for the first time. It was a million dollar question whose answer both of us would never know, despite the price tag.
I knew the family well enough to know that the father of these girls was killed in the last election and the mother, who had married soon after that, died of AIDS together with her new husband.
"They say we should vote, and after the vote, this?' she said more to herself than to me.
"Who is Mbush Blame, my son? In which part of the country does he live? What has he done? Why must we hate him so much?" She fired a salvo of question. Meanwhile, I was just examining the second girl's injuries. I removed the cellophane and rag that held the pinna of the ear in position, and the ear lobed dislodged downwards to remain hanging by a thin string of skin. The girl never flinched. She just stared resignedly into space.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because the people who beat us ordered us to say Pasi na Mbush Blame."
I continued to work, not knowing how to answer her. But she was determined.
"I said who is Mbush Blame?" she demanded again, like a teacher who won't dismiss you until you have given the correct answer.
"B-u-s-h, mama. Bush. He is the president of America mama â€“ e Melika."
"Oh no!" she spat out in great disbelief. "Can't be! America?" she was puzzled. To her peasant mind, elections here and the American president did not mix. "How? And his surname is Blame?"
"No mama. It is Blair. This is not one person. Blair is the president of Britain. "Uyabheda wena mfanyana. There is nothing like that. And how to they influence things here? And how do they â€“ oh no! May be I will never understand. Perhaps you young people do understand." She fell silent, confusion written all over her old face. She just stared at me, short of words.
There was nothing I could do to help them with the scarce resources at the clinic. I simply applied some povidone iodine and referred the threesome to the district hospital.
"But how?" She continued to maze through the puzzle. I only shook my head helplessly. "Hawu, bantu benkosi! America? Britain? Futhisifani!" She said again and again. "Perhaps towns-people understand. Perhaps these little girls will understand one day â€“ one can only hope and pray." Even her hope could not hide her disbelief. She sat slumped there, trying to add up and digest her new found knowledge.
"You know, my son, the wars we saw when we were young were fought by soldiers away from the ordinary people like you and me. There was never a war that was fought in public like some soccer match or some beer-garden brawl. This war that is fought even in our bed-rooms will leave no one alive. This is obviously an invention of geniuses."
I did not comment. I gave her her cards and the few pain killers and bade her good-bye. She hobbled off.
"Mbush Blame." She exclaimed as she shepherded her two grand daughters out of the treatment room. Mbush Blame.
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Source: Clerk Ndlovu
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