The trees stood still. The heat from the October sun cut through the hospital and the air became heavy when visitors populated the wards during the patient visiting hour that afternoon. The birds stopped chirping. There was no wind at all. A woman could be heard crying from the far end of the long, stinking corridor with peeling walls. The gloom was palpable. Small windows were dusty and broken and above them spiders had woven heavily networked webs. The webs trapped dust and insects—their shells hung lifelessly with small discoloured leaves that had found their way in. The appearance of the corridor did not qualify it to be in the hospital—it would have been better to remove the corridor and replace it altogether. In fact, it would have been better not to have a corridor at all. Then windows would not be broken; there would be no spiders or spider webs; the insects would not fall prey to the spiders; and, if ever the wind blew, no dead leaves would be trapped on the webs either.
Earlier on, a woman had walked through this corridor, advancing toward the women’s ward. She stopped for moment to press herself against the walls to allow two nurses to push a trolley with a big, black canvas bag past her. The trolley had one broken wheel: all it did was face sideways while the others did the work. As the nurses passed the woman a heavy stench from the bag invaded the woman’s nose. She wondered what was in it. The woman greeted the nurses out of politeness. They did not respond. The woman continued her journey to the ward. She noticed her dress and the back of her arms had collected some of the peeling plaster from the walls.
The woman was visiting her mother who had been hospitalised the previous night but she found her bed empty. A squashed, stained pillow and a thin blanket were all that remained. Her mother’s handbag was missing from the rusty metal locker next to the bed. She asked one of the nurses who passed by where her mother was. The nurse did not answer her. Instead, she summoned her to the nurse’s office at the end of the corridor where she gave her the grave news. She had lost her mother.
The nurse gave her her mother’s bag. She walked out of the office crying and mumbling to herself. She had no one else besides her mother. Her legs, though jolting, took her through the grungy passage as she left the office. She felt the corridor walls closing in on her. The woman’s crying carried her pain. As she exited the hospital corridor, the sun added to her misery.
She walked down the path from the hospital’s main entrance. The path was dusty. It had empty, wind-swept flowerbeds on both sides. Not even a weed sprouted there. Her mother’s void lay in front of her.
Despite the day’s heat, she felt cold inside. Her vision blurred from her tears. She reached for her handkerchief from her handbag. As she fumbled for the piece of cloth she accidentally dropped a white, plastic pouch. She did not notice it. She wiped her tears and blew her nose loudly. It seemed as though she had developed an instant flu. Her eyes swelled. Her breath was short. A headache lodged in her head. The sun beat down on her.
A couple walking in the opposite direction saw her. They were also visiting an admitted relative. As they were about to pass her, the man called to the crying woman that she had dropped something. “My sister,” he said, “I think that is yours.”
“Oh!” she replied. “Thank you. I hadn’t noticed” She picked up the pouch and pretended to smile with gratitude but her face said it all: her mother was the only relative she had and her body lay cold in the mortuary. She trudged to the road to catch a taxi home. She could see the road ahead, shimmering in front of her. It was not far. Soon she could be taken away from this place. She just had to get to the road and flag a taxi.
She walked on, drunk from grief and immune to her surroundings. Her thoughts drifted to a day some years back. She had returned from school and had asked her mother to help her with homework. She had to write a one-page essay about her family.
“Your father left and nobody knows his whereabouts” said her mother.
“Did he say anything to you before he left?”
“Yes, he said he was going to the shops to buy a newspaper and bread. He never returned.”
“Did you report it to the police?”
“I did. They told me he was an adult and wouldn’t get lost. A week later a body was found hanging from a tree behind the community hall. I went to identify the body. It wasn’t him. So, in your essay you can write about the two of us. We’re family!”
The woman had no mother now.
As she approached the busy road, she tried to recollect all the good times she had shared with her mother.
The couple who’d passed her heard a thump and tyres screeching behind them as they made it to the hospital’s entrance.
They looked at each and then proceeded into the hospital corridor.
Coletta Kandemiri is a Zimbabwean writer and a PhD candidate at the University of Namibia (UNAM). She graduated with her Master’s degree cum laude from UNAM in 2018, winning the Chancellor’s and the Vice-Chancellor’s Awards at the end of her studies which merged eco-criticism and post colonialism in the analysis of literary text set in the colonial Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe). Coletta is currently pursuing her doctorate in English Studies focusing on how contemporary glitches in present day Namibia could stem from the 1904-1908 Herero-Nama Genocide.