The Runaway- Episode 11
by Luula Jama
Mumina knew Djibouti was a hot country but it wasn’t until July that she understood. Humidity settled over the city like a wet blanket, sometimes she struggled to catch her breath after climbing a few stairs. Her clothes were soaked with sweat constantly and she developed the red, prickly bumps of heat rash on the back of her neck and across her shoulders.
She learned to enjoy her work at the hospital for no reason other than the air-conditioned wards she swept and mopped. It also kept her from worrying about who had broken into Zaynab’s house. She lingered indoors as long as possible and winced when she stepped out into the searing sunshine.
The hospital was busier than ever. Patients developed kidney stones, the elderly and young children became dehydrated and there were cases of heat stroke every day.
Mumina was wringing dirty towels into a red plastic bucket just inside the hospital entrance when she saw a man collapse in the street. It was almost one o’clock and the roads were empty of buses, taxis and women selling samboosas beneath umbrella shades. Even the goats sought refuge from the heat beneath a rusted out van. The Peltier guards were off chewing khat or eating lunch. Mumina looked up and down the street. No one came to help the man.
Mumina dropped the towels and ran to him. She knelt beside him and could hear his rapid breathing. He wore long black sports pants, tennis shoes and a t-shirt, drenched with sweat.
“Can you stand up?” she asked.
He raised his head and pushed back onto his knees.
“Do you mind if I touch you?” Mumina asked.
The man didn’t respond so she slid an arm beneath his armpits and helped him to his feet. He leaned heavily on her shoulders and they inched toward the hospital entrance.
One of the guards had returned and Mumina shouted for him to help her. He dropped his water bottle and rushed to Mumina’s side. When he reached them, she moved out of the way and let him carry the man inside. She picked up the guard’s water bottle, opened it and poured it over the man’s head. He shuddered as the cold water cascaded down his chest and back.
“Drink,” Mumina said.
The man lifted trembling hands and took the water from her. He tipped his head back to drink and lost his balance, falling against the wall behind him. The guard brought a white plastic chair with broken arm rests for the man to sit in.
The water and being inside the cool building, away from the sun, seemed to revive him but the guard and Mumina insisted he lie down and get an IV.
“What’s your name?” the guard asked.
“Jama,” the man said, his voice hoarse.
“I’ll find a bed,” the guard said then turned to Mumina. “You go to the front and check him in, find a nurse.”
“I’m fine,” Jama said. “Tired and embarrassed, but fine.”
“You have to stay here,” Mumina said. “For a few hours.”
Jama opened his mouth to protest again.
“Its one o’clock,” she said. “Who wants to go back out in this heat anyway? Take advantage of the cool room and rest a while.”
Jama’s mouth curved into a slow, half smile. He leaned forward and put his head in his hands. “Okay,” he mumbled.
In that flash of a smile, Mumina thought she saw a familiar face and hoped he wasn’t one of the many men who came to Rashid and Ahmed’s home to chew khat. Or maybe she had seen him in Hargeisa. For the moment, though, she had nothing to worry about. Before an open bed was found, Jama had fallen sleep with his head between his knees.
© Poet Nation 2011