Monday, February 8, 2016

2016 “Abebe, it is Time to Go” by Celeste Camire

Second Place in Prose wins $50

         Abebe washed thoroughly before he acted on Dr. Abraham’s call to meet him in the office. Concentrating on this task, he made sure not to miss one millimeter of surface on his small hands. Surprisingly strong and well-defined, the minor muscles were taut and veins bulged over his smooth brown skin. Abebe’s hands were evidence of the years of hard work his young life endured, carrying water three miles to and from the well to his home. These days, Abebe’s home was not away from the village, but was the small clinic in Lagos where he also worked, tending to the sick and dying, gleaning knowledge and skill from the nurses and Dr. Abraham. Thoughts of his family came to him as he looked at the deep lines that creased and grooved the flesh of his palms. Lifelines. Memories that soothed as an invisible analgesic, steadied him in his task.

In his fifteen years, Abebe had been a diligent, dutiful son. He respected his mother who vitally placed him at the head of their family. He followed her rule and cared for his siblings to ensure their safety. He took over field work for his errant, drunken father who was the first to succumb to the virus.  He thought of his family and their flimsy home, dirt floor, open windows which were a blessing and a bane. Wonderful open sweetness when soft breezes blew, but terrible gaping maws when the air was stifling and insects invaded the crowded space, or the summer rains drove water like a funnel, a river, though their hut, across the floor and through the open door. Then greater tragedy struck, and they crept from their village to the city of Lagos for help.

Altogether stricken by Ebola, and very ill, unlike the rest of his family Abebe survived, he was now immune. At the clinic, he had reaped the benefits of care and at great cost. He knew, because he was told, of the weeks that nurses helped him cling to life while his mother, brothers and sisters perished. Perhaps he should not have brought them all here, to this forsaken hospital where the virus seemed to grow and multiply, killing dozens daily. He felt complicit in their deaths. Abebe knew that he was now healthy, and it was likely time for him to go. But this place now is home. He wanted to belong, but perhaps they didn’t think the same. Maybe he was in the way.

Dr. Abraham waited in his office that was not really an office. It was more of a necessary afterthought compilation of space, set off from the hospital kitchen and separated from the storeroom by a clothesline draped with faded blankets and towels donated by the W.H.O. He was not only an M.D., but a great man to be respected, mayor-like; a Justice of the Peace, and his court smelled of moldy bread and cheese. However, smells were not the issue at hand: the pervasive, overpowering war against Ebola was truly more the stench of blood, unrequited hope and death. The odor of Government cheese became microscopic.

Abebe entered the space quietly, with his hands held up in front of him, fingers curled and palms toward his chest, as if entering a surgery. Dr. Abraham customarily, begged him to be seated, “It’s time we have a talk,” said Dr. Abraham quietly while he looked solemnly at Abebe.  Abebe was confused by Dr. Abraham’s unusual tone. He carefully reviewed the events of the day and could find no fault within himself. He wondered, did the nurses have a complaint? In the days following his illness, Abebe strove to meet every need and unspoken directive. He taught himself to anticipate the next task or possibly, the next diagnosis.

The nurses treated him as a steward whose job was to fetch and carry. How could he know the nurses’ motives intended to strengthen him? After each accomplished assignment, he was regarded solemnly and then set with another. He never failed, nor did he receive praise or reward. He worked daily under their watchful eyes and the guidance of Dr. Abraham: given their tutelage, he existed and thrived.  

Dr. Abraham watched as Abebe wrestled with his thoughts. Stoically, he observed their surroundings and wondered to himself, “What is here for the boy?” Dr. Abraham searched for paperwork on his table, usually arranged neatly, but today was a difficult day. He noticed the pattern of the blanket, a swirl of white blobs that represented peace, repeated on a solid sky blue background, and curling, red-colored two-legged images against vibrant orange that symbolized energy. He recognized the symbolism also, of Abebe’s own name: Blossomed; grown. He held his anxiety within and began softly, “Abebe, we must talk about your future.”

“Dr. Abraham, what have I done wrong?”

Dr. Abraham smiled in quiet amazement at this young man’s humility.

“Actually, Abebe, it is what you have done right. You have learned much here, but there is more in the world for you. I cannot provide it here and you must go. It is time for you to move on. By this I mean, that your future path is surely mapped out as the constellations are in the skies or as these symbols on this tapestry of towels, and your very name. You will go to school. You will be educated.”

“You will become a doctor yourself, and return here if you desire.  To this end, I will finance your education. Simply agree, and it is yours.  I am regretful to let you go, and hopeful that you will. My wish is that you will return. Are you ready?”


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