Make no mistake, he was dying, so said his doctor and she said it again in no uncertain terms.
We were at the protest site again and Wayne was in a bad way. “End of life signs,” his doctor had said. Women rubbed ice on his feet, misshapen and bulbous from swelling. His kidneys were shutting down. He was in the early stages of renal failure. He weighed just over 90 pounds. He was cold.
Wayne lay motionless for most of the day, his head lolling off the side of the row of chairs that served as a makeshift bed. He didn’t seem to notice.
His brother Paul had stopped joking. He was quiet. One arm folded, the other worrying his chin. Hayden pulled out a chair for himself and forgot to sit down.
Early in the strike, when Wayne had been rushed to the hospital, he’d consented to a minimum amount of rehydration by IV. It was just enough to keep him alive, to prolong his dying. “I was dying too fast,” he’d explained. But now he regretted it. The government had used this fact against him; a means to discredit his efforts. So now, he refused all medical intervention. He sent the ambulance and medical team away.
The Prime Minister had again failed to sign the document.
That weekend Wayne had called Elizabeth at 3am and demanded that she smuggle him out of his family’s house. They’d threatened to lock him inside, and prevent him from returning to the protest site.
“He said, ‘Elizabeth, you have to promise me you will take over the fight when I die…’” her voice trailed off to silence on the other end of the phone.
I’d been sitting in the drain at the side of the road when Khan showed me his scarred knuckles. He was one of the Debe residents who came everyday. His fingers were crossed at odd angles from years of bare knuckled karate fighting. He had a scar on his lip where a sore loser had slammed him with a wooden 2x4 after a fight. Now a man in his forties, he was done fighting for money. He was teaching his seven year old son to fight, “so he could know what it is to stand up strong. If you don’t know how to fight the world will eat you like nothing,” he explained. He looked over at Wayne in the distance,
“He doin this for us alone, you know? He doin’ this so we could keep we house and land. And you know, he don’t have a pin to lose? Not one pin. I woulda rather lose my house than see him die.”
Some of the residents had begun to beg Wayne to stop what he was doing.
“I can’t have that man’s death on my conscience,” another resident said. Wayne had once pulled out all the survey markers on his land and thrown them to the ground. “If they ask, tell them I pulled them out,” he’d said to him.
Back in Debe, the women fasted and prayed for this to end.
That day there had almost been a riot. A local activist named Ishmael Samad, opposed to Wayne’s strike, had marched up to where Wayne was lying on the side of the road.
“I am making a citizens arrest! Come, lets go-” he announced and grabbed Wayne by the wrist, dragging him to the ground.
“Wayne is my friend. I’m not going to let him die!”
Wayne was too weak to fight back. The women screamed and the men descended on Samad. I’d been standing next to Wayne and grabbed him by the thigh, trying with others to keep him from being trampled. His thigh was fearfully emaciated, only thick enough to be cupped in the common ‘c’ of my hand.
The police grabbed Samad, folded him in a protective circle and dragged him away. The site was in uproar and journalists scrambled to get the shot. Wayne’s sister wailed by his side, but he was unharmed, merely dazed.
“Samad is mad to do that! He lucky the police drag him away. Them farmers would’ve beat him dead dead dead,” a man said.
I found Khan breathing hard at the side of the road.
“I not allowed to hit anybody for another six months,” he had a pending charge on him for hitting another man in a bar. His crooked hands were trembling with rage. The police had dragged Samad away before he could get to him,
“Is only the grace of God save both of we here today. They woulda jail me for sure”
The word came again that the Prime Minister had again refused them. His family stood bloodless, staring out. For the first time, Wayne looked afraid.
A journalist remarked, “I think we’re about to see our first death from hunger strike in this country.”
“They just waiting for him to die,” a man said, and walked away.
“I will be back tomorrow,” Wayne said to the reporters.
In Debe, the women prayed all through the night.