weeks Boris decided it was time to give up on her, or it may have been
his wives, jealous of their own children’s well-being. Jamilla was a lost
cause. She was draining the family’s savings. If she died, any money
spent on her would have been thrown away for nothing. The fact that it
was my money made little difference. I, too, might weary of medical bills
that never ended. And then a son or a newborn might fall ill and die be-
cause my purse—or my compassion—had become exhausted. Still, there
was shame in this, the disgrace of abandoning kin. Boris had drunk an
impressive amount of alcohol before he flapped through my doorway to
say, “The family doesn’t think you should keep paying.”
He had expected my reaction and had prepared his defense: “All the
doctors have just given up.”
“I want to see her.”
We made our way to the hospital on foot. The afternoon sun scolded.
Why were we out at this time when sensible people were sheltering in-
side? When even animals sought refuge—the ducks cooling off in pud-
dles of urine and bathwater, the pigs wallowing in the runoff from public
Boris complained. Why did I want to go to the hospital? What did I
think I would see? Jamilla was just lying there, every day looking worse.
But the hospital staff had not given up on her; they were still giving
her medicine. I knew this because I was paying for it.
Yes, Boris acknowledged, they were giving Jamilla too many medicines. And nothing was working.
It was my money, I reminded him. Mine to spend or not. Not his to
He closed his mouth in a hard line.
The British had built Wa Hospital in the 1930s and ’40s. It was an airy,
shady place, a collection of one-story wards that branched off from either side of a central loggia. Each ward was flanked by deep verandas
that were sheltered in turn by enormous neem trees.
The entrance to Jamilla’s ward reeked of resignation and disinfectant.
Before pushing open the screen door I took a deep breath and stiffened
my back. Hospital wards were desperate places. Patients lay inert on
high metal beds as if already on their biers. Family members camped
beneath the beds to cook, bathe, and comfort. As Boris and I walked