“Madam, the family does not think you should keep paying.”
He clamped his jaw around the words, spewed them out. He couldn’t
bring himself to look at me. His gaze swept along the floor, up the wall,
across the ceiling. Down and up, back and around.
“Keep paying for what?” I was well aware of what he was trying to tell
me but had no intention of making it easy for him. I wanted to hear him
say the ugly words, to speak the rejection. The abandonment.
From six feet away I could smell the gin on his breath. Or the
“Jamilla,” he explained. “The family does not think you should keep
paying for her.”
“I see.” I did see. Because of that I pushed. “So Jamilla is better, then?”
“She is not better!” he exploded. Then, more softly, “She will not
get better now.” He murmured it sideways, addressing the wall like a
He faced around with something close to anger, reminding me that
Jamilla had been in the hospital for almost two weeks. All the doctors,
he said, had just given up on her.
All the doctors. All two of them, both from Cuba. They’d been seconded to the town of Wa, in the northwest corner of Ghana, to pay off
some kind of national debt incurred in the 1960s.
“Also the nurses.” Boris sighed with relief at having delivered his
message. He let out a long, slow breath, nearly a moan. His shoulders
dropped, and he allowed himself to assume an appropriately funereal
air. It was death, after all, that hovered behind his words.
“They have pushed her bed to the end of the ward,” he continued.
This was a bad sign. There was no privacy on hospital wards in Wa.
When patients were dying, their beds were shoved against an end wall
to provide a modicum of seclusion, an extra six feet of isolation. There
were, of course, no curtains, no private rooms. People died as they lived,
in full view of everyone around them.
“I want to see her.”
This was not quite true; I had little desire to become involved in yet
another life-in-crisis-and-could-I-please-make-everything-right? But
conscience pricked. Surely at least one visit was in order. The girl was
Boris’s niece. He and I had been friends of a kind for almost two de-