entered the maternity ward, walked to her bedside, and, in the presence
of a dozen new mothers, stood over Jamilla to recite the Muslim formula: “I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee.” The third iteration
makes it final. After that the couple can’t remarry.
I was speechless.
Boris defended him. Jamilla, he explained, was a “bad-luck wife.” She
was her husband’s first wife, and if he kept her after two stillborn deliveries, her ill-omened fate would poison his house. His future wives
might all be barren. He might live for eighty years and never bring forth
a healthy son. Or his children would all die young of poverty.
But Jamilla was just a child herself.
Boris looked glum. He had a chronic aversion to responsibility, and
now, abandoned by her husband, Jamilla was once again in his care. It
was to his house she would return when she left the hospital. It was to
him her medical bills would be sent. It would be his task to find her another husband—and who would have her?
Jamilla was discharged a few days later and made her way to Danko.
Within forty-eight hours she developed a high fever. Malaria was suspected, but the fever did not respond to treatment.
Local healers were consulted. Nothing worked. Boris was in a predicament. He had at that time two wives and eight or nine children of
his own. If he spent more money on Jamilla, what would happen if one
of his own sons or daughters became ill? He came to me worried and
despondent, setting me up to pay for Jamilla’s expenses. And I embraced
them now because too many things had gone wrong. It was forgivable,
what he asked.
I told him not to worry; I’d take care of things.
Yes. Boris approved. I was behaving like a proper “big man,” looking
after my people. His immediate worry relieved, he allowed his chauvinism to surface. “You know,” he remarked casually, “right now, if Jamilla
should die, her death would be as the death of a chicken. Just nothing.”
She had no husband, no offspring, no place in a family tree. Her life so
far counted for nothing. Likewise her death. And her funeral, should he
have to arrange it, would be for him a modest, low-cost affair to which
almost no one would come.
Fearing puerperal fever, I insisted that Boris get Jamilla readmitted
to the hospital. He complied, but even so she did not respond to treatment. Instead, each day she sank further toward oblivion. After two