We got the call around 5pm. The cameraman and I were to come to the house immediately. As we sped over, we were certain, “My God, this is it. He’s dying.”
We arrived and the house was silent.
“He’s upstairs,” Elizabeth said, “in the bath. He wants you to film it.”
Now we were confused. What could it mean? But we followed her, on tip toes, up the stairs.
The air smelled of vanilla. It tasted sweet. A half dozen candles colored the bathroom orange and the room seemed to tremble in their lambent light. He was lying in the bath, naked except for a pair of black boxers that clung to him, concealing nothing. His mass so slight, that when supine in the water, he floated an inch above the bottom of the tub, buoyant as driftwood. His hip bones were mountainous. They drew down toward the deep valley of his stomach; a sinkhole that sucked under his ribs. His ribs were as prominent as clasped fingers, draped with dark wet silk. Dense clusters of veins and tendons throbbed mutely in the hollows of his chest.
His wife bathed him dutifully. She poured water on his head to keep him warm. She was birdlike with glasses that magnified wide eyes. She was older than Wayne. She was reedy, with a face so open and guileless that you worried for her.
“Hello Young Miss,” he said to me.
He invited the cameraman to film him. The violation of our presence didn’t seem to trouble him. His wife seemed a good soldier, familiar with the chores and small surrenders of war.
Elizabeth came to the door, there were important men here to see him.
“Bring them in,” he said
“Here?” Elizabeth asked, hesitating.
“Yes,” he said, and pulled himself more upright in the tub.
The men had come to negotiate the terms needed to bring an end to Wayne’s hunger strike. Winston Riley and Afra Raymond, heads of two influential civil organizations in the country. They’d brought with them a draft of the document Wayne had been waiting for - the version the Prime Minster was willing to sign. They were here partly on her behalf. These were powerful men, well acclimated to a life of authority. They were unprepared for the nakedness of Wayne’s body. For its cadaverous first impression. For his wife. I watched as they grew small; they’d become supplicant at the sight of him. The frailest man in the room had become the most powerful.
Wayne invited Riley to sit at the edge of the tub.
“You have something for me,” Wayne said.
Riley fumbled with his words. He had the document, if Wayne would like to read it. He thought he would be happy with the terms, in fact he was confident.
“Can someone read it? My hands are wet.”
Riley extended the document first to Moody, Wayne’s wife, but when she declined he cleared his throat and began to read aloud to Wayne. Moody retreated to a corner of the room, back to the wall, hands clasped in front, listening. All while the cameraman kept filming.
The other man, Raymond, was pacing a quiet storm outside the room. He pressed his head against the bars of the window, “Jesus … Jesus Christ…” he mumbled softly to himself, recovering.
After the document was read, Wayne had questions. Riley shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the tub. Wayne’s mind was as sharp and uncompromising as a blade. Riley seemed a schoolboy caught in a pop quiz. Only when Wayne was satisfied that every term had been met did he finally say,
“OK?” Riley asked, “You will stop the strike?”
“Yes. I will stop.”
Outside the room, an eavesdropping Raymond expelled an enormous breath and rushed into the bathroom to shake Wayne’s wet hand.
Moody darted out of the room then, and threw her thin arms around me. She flew into a noiseless exhilaration of padded leaps and a feign of joyful clapping.
“Oh God, oh God, it’s done! Yes yes yes yes yes!” she chanted softly. Then came the rush of words, like the nervous chittering of a small bird.
“I have to call my son and tell him,” she said. She’d taken this opportunity to clean up their house, to redecorate. She’d been worried because the furniture she bought would not arrive until next week, but then she’d gotten the good news that it would arrive tomorrow. She would fix up the place. “He don’t care- You should see his den…” she said and gesticulated a chaos. He’s the kind of man who, “could live in the morass.” He would tell her not to fix anything, but he would like it, when he sees it. She began to jump and bounce, hands clasped in prayer.
“So so happy! We did it! It’s done.”
She took off excitedly out of the room.
Wayne took his first sip of water in the tub. The first two attempts to swallow were a failure. But the third went down.
“Not too much!” Elizabeth said.
Wayne was beaming. There would be no time to waste though, if he was to make the evening news. Elizabeth had let them know he would be making a statement.
His family was waiting downstairs. His brother Paul and his brother-in-law Mark. They were in and out of Wayne’s bedroom in a state of measured celebration.
“I don’t want to hear one word about this for a long time. I lived it. I was there,” Paul said.
Wayne came down in a towel, wrapped about his waist. He was still wet and sat on the edge of the bed. His family lined the far wall. Charlotte sat beside him typing as he dictated a statement for the press. Once that was finished he waited for the calls. Someone suggested he put some clothes on, and he ignored them. He did four live phone interviews in his towel.
Once that was over, Paul said, “Alright, now lets go to the hospital, they’re expecting you.”
Ignoring him, Wayne said,
“Elizabeth, what you have to eat here?”
His family’s expressions grew tense.
“You can’t just start eating like that Wayne. You have to go slow.” Elizabeth said.
“What do you have to eat?”
To his family’s horror, Elizabeth relented, agreeing to give him a small bite of yogurt.
“Why we don’t go to the hospital now?” Paul said. When he was ignored again he left the room.
“You can’t tell him nothing, you know? Nothing at all.” he said privately.
When Wayne finished the scrape of yogurt he turned to Elizabeth again, demanding more. Moody tried to intervene, she’d asked a doctor friend in the States who specialized in anorexia for advice on how to stop a fast. She had an entire document on it. Wayne humored her in a way that communicated no intention of really listening. She fumbled to explain and he grew impatient,
“What does the document say? What does it say?”
“To go slowly…” Moody said, but Wayne had moved on.
Elizabeth arrived with a mango and Wayne bit into it voraciously.
Moody exited the room.
She found Paul outside.
“Why this man won’t go to the fluckin’ hospital?” He didn’t curse, but used the allowable Christian “fluckin” instead. “Why are they giving him things to eat? He’s not supposed to eat things like that?” he said.
“I know, that’s why I’m going. I don’t want to see,” Moody said, and then left.
“Your wife has left because you don’t know how to follow instructions,” Elizabeth said to Wayne who’d finished the Mango, its juice running down his arm.
Paul lingered just outside the door, “Is eggshells you walking on in there,” he said to me.
Finally, Wayne announced, “OK, I’ll go,” and the room flew into action. They loaded him into the car, and headed for the hospital.
It was over. It was done.