Telling Histories

     In just under two weeks Wayne had made the transition from a man who was living, to a man who was dying.  No food. No water. An extreme hunger strike. Sustenance had been wrenched from his body cruelly and without warning. The shock of it turned life against its owner, and he was being devoured from within. It must have been excruciating: the hunger, the thirst, the fiery cramps in his gut, “but he don't say nothing about it, never complains one word,” his mother said.

    He lay on a makeshift gurney on the side of the two lane road. There were no sidewalks, the cars passed within feet and sometimes swerved around the bulge of onlookers that gathered daily. A row of four or five women stood holding black umbrellas along the length of his body, trying with limited success to keep the sun off of him. Ringing them tight, jostling and stooped like vultures, were the press. They flashed their cameras, and thrust their mikes, interrupting the reverential hush with a cacophony of wordless mechanical whirs and clacks.

    Off to the sides, in drains lining the road, handfuls of supporters and the curious stood on their shadows in the midday sun. Some conversed in the hushed tones of a wake, others gripped in the creased brow silence of their own thoughts. A few took shelter in the shadow of an ambulance that had been parked close by, just in case.

    On the opposite side of the road the riot police stood in a row along the barricades that now surrounded the Prime Minister's offices. High in the windows above, curious government workers appeared, and then retreated again, like apparitions.

    A man in a passing car yelled, "Why we should feel sorry for the man, he make the choice to die!” But his mother had no choice in the matter. She and her family came every day, straining at dignity in this most public of mourning places. 

“Who knows what to expect from a man such as that,” Wayne’s youngest brother Paul said. He was a jocular man in his late twenties, wearing a cobalt blue dress shirt and his hands were fists in the pockets of his black slacks. He stood off to the side of the busy road, away from the crowd that walled off his view of his brother. He turned a worried look in their direction. A nervous twitch spasmed just under his right eye. Whatever kind of man Wayne was, it was clear from Paul’s look that he loved him.

     “All of we in the family just waiting for him to get better ... so we could kill him,” he spoke in punchlines, gallows and grave, grinning and twitching in unison.

    Wayne was the eldest of eight brothers and sisters.

    “We divided up the duties,” Paul said, “Hayden [his brother] and my sister are in charge of the media. I’m in charge of health … so if anything goes wrong with his health, that’s on me,” he joked again.

    The family didn’t believe in what he is doing. Some thought he was naive or reckless or brave, stubborn, selfish, heroic, wasting his time, hurting his mother. They only agreed that they didn’t want him to die, and Wayne had made it clear that the only way he would to stop was if he got what he wanted: a transparent review of the government’s decision to build a controversial strip of highway and seize the land of roughly 300 families, temples and mosques in rural Debe. So everyday, they hoped for an audience with the Prime Minister. So far they’d been loudly rebuffed.

    “They’re strangers. Strangers,” his father said. He meant the residents of Debe, whose land Wayne had committed his body to try and save. “I call them, I beg them to come down and support him. ‘My son is out here dying for you,’ I said, ‘and you wouldn’t even come.’” He fixed his gaze on nothing like a statuary depicting grief.