Telling Histories

Day 13


Elizabeth Mentia’s* house was beautiful. A wide arced driveway drew past a landscaped tropical garden, and was made musical by a company of birds, frogs and cicadas. The ragged dogs that ambled loosely on the lawn looked like trespassers on the everywhere polished grounds. A security guard sprawled languorously in a cramped booth, legs jutting out, head propped up by a fist. The ambulance was parked near the entrance to the house. Elizabeth was the daughter of a well known businessman, part of an old monied family and it would seem, was also a close friend to Wayne. It was 7am and I’d arrived to meet with him. This was not where I expected to find a man of the people. He’d stay at this house on the weekdays, saving himself the long trips to and from the capital. Here a nurse could stay through the night. Back at his family’s house, Wayne’s sister had lost sleep worrying over him.

    “You don’t know what goes on at home, its hard on us,” she’d said, “he stayed with me and I kept checking, checking. Even though the ambulance is there I worry, what if he stops breathing? All night. No sleep.”

    Elizabeth was a manicured bohemian, even the African cloth wrapped as a skirt and the scarf used to draw her blonde hair up on her head, looked freshly pressed and starched by someone else.

    “Who are you again?” She asked me in a nervous rush.

    “Here to see Dr. Kublalsingh,” I reminded her.

    “Oh, right, right- well, not too long though, he’s not well at all- and we have an interview with Reuters coming right now- I don’t even know where they would want to do it- and we have a wonderful photographer with us today too, very talented, Miguel Galfore- you’ve heard of him?- well you should meet him- definitely.” She’d expelled all of that in one breath and then was gone.

    She left me to wait in the foyer with the EMT and the day-nurse who were about to start their shift. They’d been on this detail more than a week now. The EMT had become something of a stunt driver, taking evasive measures to lose the unmarked police cars that tailed them.  At night, the nurse could hear the helicopter circling the neighborhood looking for the ambulance in the yards.

    “He have about four fastin’ days in him still. He good,” the young EMT said.

    “An’ if he was your father, how you would feel?” the nurse asked, sucking her teeth.

    “I wouldn’ta worry - I know my father goin’ and eat just now. My father not goin’ and commit suicide like that,” he smiled at his own joke as the nurse rolled her eyes,

    “What’s more important? Keepin’ him alive or his rights?”

The EMT found something more interesting on his phone and the room went quiet again.


*Name changed for confidentiality.


    The room he was in was hung with a shock of large paintings, piccaso-esqe depictions of buxom naked women with enormous pink breasts. It seemed a scandalous and ridiculous place for a man to convalesce. He was wearing a thick t-shirt and was covered with a blanket in bed. He was shivering, his blood pressure too low to regulate his body temperature.

    “Elizabeth? I’m a bit cold,” he said unalarmed.

Elizabeth flew into the room like a trapped bird.

    “What do you need? What do you need?”

    “Just the sweater. Yes. Thank you.”

    He eased himself into the sweater with great difficulty and slowness, then settled into the bed again. He must have read the concern on my face, “Don’t worry Miss, if you don’t freak out, I won’t,” and tried at a smile. A patch of brown thigh showed through a hole in the blanket.

    His manner was sober; a measured man considering interesting things at a leisurely pace.

His words rolled out dulcet, uninflected, professorial. But he would snap with impatience if made to repeat himself.

    “I didn’t consult with anyone, I made my decision. I didn’t tell my family, I can’t talk to them. They don’t understand these things. They make me feel sick. They don’t believe in what I am doing. They ask me, ‘Why are you doing this for these people? You’re going to get sick,’ and so on. They don’t care about things like this. They don’t understand about sacrifice, social justice and so on.”

    He’d spoken to his wife, “but I don’t think she realized the full consequences of what I was doing.”

    His wife Moody was a woman of delicate constitution, made worse by all this business of slow dying. I noticed she wasn’t in the house. She stayed at their home outside the city, and came sparingly to the protest site.

    “I felt a kind of outrage,” that’s what drove him.

    “As a child I was terrified of the stick, of beatings [in school]. I never liked to see the weaker children being victimized and so on. Later, with the events in Iraq I was outraged. I followed the revolutions, Cuba and so on.” He’d found a way to channel that through activism, “because anger alone doesn’t accomplish anything. And people here are not willing to kill people, and so on.”

    He could have cited any number of things that motivated him, justice, peace, love, humanity, but he’d chosen to name rage.

    “I could see that the people were tired. We’d tried everything, protests, sit-ins, we built the camp and they brought the army to break it down and so on. The women were still willing to fight - its always the women, so strong, historically, its the women with the backbone. I so admire them - but I could see they were tired. It was time to do something … My mind is getting foggy ... not enough sugar...”

    Elizabeth was back in the room. The international press had arrived and were ready for him. Soon they would have to leave for another day of protest.

    “Help yourself to something to eat and drink,” he said without irony, leaving me with no idea how to respond.