|A Writer Writes
HE HOUSE IS ALONG the highway, just a few miles from the nearest town. It sags at the top of a cliff so steep that it can’t be seen until I’ve come out of the bus and hiked up a slanting path. There are no trees, and the Nicaraguan dry-season sun beats down.
In helping the local health authority establish child-health outposts in each hamlet, my days are filled with these home visits. Inside, the house is dark except for the light beaming through gaps in the adobe. After inviting me in, Doña Senovia goes back to stand over a sooty cauldron on the mud stove. She stirs with a rectangle of wood as small bubbles burp at the surface. The green-grey muck is corn that’s been mixed with ashes to soften the kernels that will later to be ground into masa and flattened into tortillas.
Doña Senovia brings her hands to her chest and fidgets with the top button of her blouse when I ask about the teenage daughter’s health. “Me podía morir anoche,” she says. She could have died on me last night.
Coming to stand in the kitchen with us, Tánia’s leg twitches and bounces. Her face glistens a waxy shade of grayish green, the color of the boiling corn-ash mixture.
I rest my elbows on the table and listen. Doña Senovia runs her palm up and down a groove in the tabletop as though polishing it. She describes her daughter’s nighttime convulsions. She can’t even walk across the room without pain, Doña Senovia says. “Pero no hay reales.” But we’ve got no money for treatment.
Doña Senovia begins to weep. It is a choking cry.
Tánia’s little sisters and her younger brother, Alonzo, are in the next room sitting on folding cots, watching.
ON THE DAY AFTER Tánia dies, I ride the bus out and make my way up the path. Alonzo is standing outside, looking down at me with reddened eyes. I walk toward him, thinking that this undersized twelve year-old boy has always been there with her. Always. I’d see him, barefoot, sitting on the front steps of the Red Cross in town. His heavy black hair jutting out like paintbrushes from his frayed Coca-Cola cap, his neck and clothes coated with dust from the long walks along the highway. Once, he took my hand and not bothering to ask the nurses for permission led me to Tánia’s bedside. She lay on her back, body thumping up and down against the bare mattress. Alonzo and I knelt, and he rested his hand on her temple, slowly stroking her hair. I stared down into her eyes, the only part of her being that was still.
Roderick Jones is an infectious disease epidemiologist in Chicago. He served as a health PCV in and around Somoto, Nicaragua during 1992 to 1996. He is a frequent contributor to Backstreets: The Boss Magazine.