Anatomy of a Hunger Strike

 
 
 

 

 

In the beginning it was a spectacle. Who could believe that in a country where so many seemed resigned to the recession of justice, to the intractability of corruption so overt that headlines read like punchlines, that there could be a sane man willing to die on principle? For strangers. At first no-one believed it. But as the days went on, and fifty-two year old Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh - educated at Oxford, trimmed at Sandhurst (the West point of England), professor of literature, writer of children’s books - remained stubbornly seated at the doorstep of the Prime Minister’s offices, his body wasting away, people started to believe.

I’d first heard about him on Day 9, a Friday, and by Sunday I’d flown from New Yorkto Trinidad, back to my country. I wanted to meet a man professedly willing to die for other men. For strangers. I wanted to find where such heroism took root in an ordinary man.  What I found first, was his mother.

 

 

 

Day 12

Wayne’s mother looked down at his body laid out in the blaze of the Caribbean sun. The muscle had shrunk back so much, and so quickly, that the skin pooled like melted wax at the joints and hollow belly. The pulse, close under the soggy flesh, pumped laboriously where it was visible at the junction of the shoulder blade and neck; its rhythm one of a fish gasping just shy of the water’s edge. A network of veins twisted across his frame; a body turned inside out; tiny ropes that seemed all that held him together. She stood behind him, “I don’t want him to see the pain on my face,” she explained.

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 had 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 was 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 to 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. 

Only a handful of the Debe residents came every day. Some cited jobs from which they could not be absent. Others promised unconvincingly and never delivered. A few were honest, and said frankly that they were afraid. And with good reason. The controversy over the highway had divided the small community. There were those that regarded the members of the group that became known as the Highway Re-route Movement, at best as troublemakers, and at worst as apostates of the majority Indian party now in office. Supporters dodged projectiles thrown from cars to yells of “traitor” and other foul greetings. Political rallies held in the area became menacing circuses and stirred up further maelstrom. One politician, Minister Jack Warner, the principle villain in Wayne’s telling of the narrative, had suggested that he, “just hurry up and die.” Low level government employees in the area had been impelled by officials to wear pro-government t-shirts and given placards denouncing Wayne and the movement. They’d been packed into busses and let out onto the street, opposite Wayne. They’d posed for the media, unwilling actors in political grandstanding. Throughout the day they would sneak across the road, and whisper in Wayne’s ear, “I’m sorry, I woulda lose my job, they force we. I with you,” and then return to the stage of the protest. 

These moments only strengthened Wayne’s resolve. In an impolitic move, the government had even offered Wayne a bribe to stop what he was doing.  Realizing they couldn’t reason with a “madman’s” principles, they turned their attention to his family, first with offers of money and lucrative business contracts, and then with threats of stalled careers and financial ruin. They should’ve known that the family had no more sway with Wayne than they. He’d already mortgaged his consideration for their well being for this endeavor. It was futile. 

Wayne’s father didn’t agree with what his son was doing, but in truth, he rarely did. Wayne was always different: a crusader, a juggernaut. Anything his father bought for him, he would give away. He’d once bought Wayne a car, hoping to retire the rusty van his son had been driving. But he gave that away as well. Ray and his wife Verna had married young. They’d educated and raised their family from humble to respectable; a family of lawyers and businessmen; all of them except for Wayne. But their love for him had made unwilling actors of them all. 

 

When Wayne had become too weakened, his middle brother Hayden was made the official spokesperson. He did multiple television and radio interviews a day. He had a boyish face under a mop of salt and pepper hair. It was too long in the front and got in his eyes. He’d blow it up and away, making him seem even more like a boy. When I asked him what he’d normally be doing now, he told me about a little cottage he’d built for himself out in the woods, surrounded by trees. 

“I don’t think my brother wants to die, I don’t think he wants to die,” Hayden said to the reporters, “My brother is a person of incredible conviction. I hope to be like him one day, when I grow up.” The journalists laughed, but Hayden didn’t. I noticed he was driving his thumbnail into the palm of his hand. 

It was the end of another day. Word had spread that the Prime Minister had again refused to entertain Wayne’s demands. Grave news. His supporters solemnly gathered their things and filed out. A nurse settled Wayne into the ambulance for the drive home. 

“See you tomorrow.” I said to Hayden.

“Let’s hope not,” he said.

 

 

 

Day 13

Charlotte Elias’ 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. Charlotte 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.”

Charlotte 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.

 

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.

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

Charlotte 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 - it’s always the women, so strong, historically, it’s 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...”

Charlotte 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.

 

 

 

 

Day 14

Debe was a two hour journey from the capital. As I drove east, the highway, flanked by undulating green hills, narrowed to cracked roads that cut through large swathes of impersonal government housing settlements, narrowed further into crumbling streets that wound haphazardly around small farms and family compounds, and finally petered out to dirt tracks. It was a maze and impossible to navigate without a guide. There were no street signs, and the residents christened roads according to the families who’d lived there for generations. 

“Take a right by Ramlal an’ them, turn off by Singh and a left by Mohammed, you’ll find Ragit an’ his sons out on the land.” 

 

A similar story echoed from house to house.

“We is simple people,” Ragit, said when I finally found him. He was missing every other tooth in the bottom half of a broad smile. The older women had grown tired, he explained. They cried often now, and stayed in their beds past the hour. The men were weary too. They spoke in mournful tones, the fight growing dim in them. They looked at their sons and grandsons and saw visions of concrete being poured over their footprints in the mud. They were to be severed from the land, their land - this seemed inevitable now. Ragit remembered the year he bought each brick on his house. That was the way they did it back then, “banned their belly and worked,” saved a penny and when there was extra they bought five bricks, ten bricks some years, and built up the house, top down, piece by piece. Now they had a two story house. The grandchildren lived downstairs with the mother. In the annex in the back his brother and his wife, and upstairs with him the matriarch and his father. They plant dasheen and pumpkin, melon when the rain is good, pepper, peas. There is some citrus for the family. The land even has a river, when other people hosing, he have no want for water. It was good land, still good from when his grandfather first start to plant for himself, back when he bought the first brick to build around the tapir house (a traditional house made of cow dung) and one room became seven. It was good land, paid for with money that could have educated his father and uncles, good land that made his family land owners instead of “coolie” indentured laborers, it was ancestry, wealth, legacy, manhood. So when the two men came in their fancy car to say the government was going to buy they land, he say no, he not selling this land. So when they showed him a piece of paper, he asked what it was. They say, “Is so we could survey and see what the land is worth,” they say, “Is so we can know how to compensate you if we take the land.” So he signed it with an X, thinking it was a survey, they went to their car and made a copy and handed it to him. They drove away, “and now the government own me’ land.”

 

Section 14. The Land Acquisition Act. It says the government has the right to seize land in the interest of the public good, and provide commensurate compensation. It is a law so tricky with loopholes that a good lawyer would need three cups of coffee to decipher it. This is what Ragit signed, he waived his right to query the acquisition. Now the government had six months to come onto the land or they would lose their claim. 

The incursions started in November. They came, “like a thief in the night.” At around 11pm farmers would wake to the rumble of bulldozers in the darkness, distant headlights. They came during Diwali, a holy day as inviolable as Christmas, when “they know everybody would be out celebrating and no one would be on the land,” says Terrence Bhodhai, an unassuming man in his thirties. He’d left his father’s farm life, and become an engineer. They’d raced back to the farm to fend them off, playing cat and mouse with the bulldozers for four, maybe five hours, blocking its path onto the land with their bodies, their Sunday best covered in mud. Finally, the bulldozer relented and started to drive away. 

“We were so tired eh, but as soon as we left the land we see them double back, before we could catch them again they were inside we land.” 

Back then they didn’t know about the incursion clause. But they knew about the neighbors who had signed, the ones who were forced to rent now, no means of income, no compensation, “their family scattered” - and they were afraid. It was then that they’d called Dr. Kublalsingh.

“He organize we, he give we a plan,” Mr. Boise explained. He was the genial patriarch of twenty-six: wife, children and grandchildren, all living in a row of houses built on one parcel of land. “We had try everything. Is he who say we should go on protest. We built the camp and hold the rallies to organize the people. We had the law on we side but they bulldoze we anyway.”

 

There is a shaky cellphone video that had been shot in June, five months before the hunger strike. It’s daybreak. Wayne is twisting like a snake being forced into a bag as two soldiers drag him along a road, one at each arm. At one point he wriggles away, making a mad dash back towards the ruins of a camp they’d built on land earmarked for construction. Three bulldozers worked in the distance, leveling the encampment. The people had been sleeping and praying there for the past month in protest. A makeshift temple lay flattened, a place too holy to enter wearing shoes, its sacred contents ground to dust. It was a sacrilege and the old women gathered there wailed, holding their handbags. 

“This is a holy place- please! Mr. Warner! You have no conscience?” A woman’s voice rings out. Minister Jack Warner is standing off to the side, rocked back on his heels, arms folded like at artist studying his latest work. 

Wayne is netted by six soldiers as he tries to intercept the bulldozer again. They drag him, dispassionate as sleepwalkers, back onto the road. The coiling begins again. They wrench his arms behind his back and he loses his footing. 

“The man is unarmed! He’s unarmed!” the novice cameraman cries out. Wayne has been silent, though a fury sounded in his expression, and drew his lips back from bared teeth.

 

“Is on that same tractor right ‘dere,” Mr. Boise was pointing at a tractor parked far out on his land. Five months had passed since the camp had been destroyed. Mr. Boise had just shown Wayne the final notice to take possession of his land.

“Is when I show him that, he just walk off. He went and sit right ‘dere on that same tractor. He stay ‘dere for the whole day, just studyin’. We say, ‘What Kublalsingh doin’ out ‘dere, boy?’ Is when he walk back he say, ‘That’s it. I not eating again. I on strike.” This was Day One. 

 

 

 

Day 16

Every day of that final week grew more dire than the one before. The urgency of Wayne’s condition sounded an alarm. Even the government felt the pressure to respond. Outcry on Wayne’s behalf had grown loud and international. It was a public relations nightmare for the ruling party. They winced as this dirty laundry was aired by the international press. Wayne held them hostage with a gun to his own head. Now finally, came a response.

It was encouraging news and Wayne was in high spirits. Local activists and civil society had taken up the cause and were petitioning the government on his behalf. There were rumors that progress could be made by the end of the day.

 

Wayne had become a site of pilgrimage. People came from all over the country, from all backgrounds, from all generations. They lined up to sit with him and shared their stories. There were those that had lost loved ones to crime, others who had lost livelihoods to corruption, most talked about the fear that had become a constant companion. Mothers took their children out of school and brought them to meet him. An unending procession, more with every passing day.

Wayne’s protest had become something else; about something more than the highway.

“It wasn’t always like this,” was a lament repeated by many.  They remembered that there had been better days; that as a nation they’d once dreamt of becoming better than this. 

“He represents the best of us,” one said.

Another man had walked eight hours over a mountain to shake Wayne’s hand. Musicians brought instruments and composed songs. They ringed him with music. Wayne liked The Beetles and Bob Marley and so they sang, the surrounding crowd joining in, singing low and shy. 

Don’t give up the fight,” went the refrain and, unplanned, they repeated the line for more than a minute. 

Politicians came calling as well, posing with him for the cameras. Priests, Pundits and Imams prayed over him. One priest sang, “Oh God do allow, so my life can have some meaning,” while Wayne’s sister wept quietly in the shade.

“There’s no guarantee we will be out again on Monday,” Wayne seemed light and optimistic. 

“We expect an answer from the Prime Minister. We will review the documents over the weekend and make our decision.”

He was on his feet wearing a gray hoodie that looked three sizes too large. He encouraged his visitors to, “Eat, eat! Drink and be merry.” The promise of victory seemed near.

He seemed a man on the mend. We almost forgot the gravity of his condition. 

 

 

 

Day 19

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 Charlotte 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, ‘Charlotte, 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. 

 

 

 

Day 21

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,” Charlotte 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.

Charlotte came to the door, there were important men here to see him. 

“Bring them in,” he said

“Here?” Charlotte 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.”

“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!” Charlotte said.

Wayne was beaming. There would be no time to waste though, if he was to make the evening news. Charlotte 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,

“Charlotte, 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.” Charlotte said.

“What do you have to eat?”

To his family’s horror, Charlotte 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 Charlotte 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.

Charlotte 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,” Charlotte 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.