There are times in this universe where you can tilt your head up, look back, and suddenly realize that you are watching the last grain of sand in your hourglass fall.
Terror is not the moment when you start to hiccup. Rather, it is the moment when you suddenly realize that you have the hiccups. You freeze, then quickly look up and stare at your nurse for a moment in abject fear. Hiccups are a late sign. You can see the pity and sorrow in your nurse’s eyes.
The grain is falling.
Terror is the moment when you swipe the back of your wrist across your runny nose, and then look down to see your wrist coated in blood. You pause, confused for a moment, then horrified as reality sets in. You have started to bleed, and you know that when the bleeding starts, it often never stops.
The grain is falling.
Terror is that moment that They closed the gates. After hours of a stifling, bumpy ride in the back of a wailing ambulance, the doors are opened by Them. Them, who wear the spacesuits. Them, the apato doctors and nurses, all white skin and colorful eyes. And They guide you to a chair, where you sit for a few moments while the inside of the ambulance, every surface that you might have ever touched, is sprayed with chlorine. Then the ambulance pulls away, and two of Them walk slowly, like robots, to the enormous double doors of the ambulance bay.
Terror is the sound of the iron rebar supports scraping through the rocky red dirt, the view of the outside world narrowing, narrowing, a last glimpse of the cotton and palm, wait, one second more, stop, and then there is nothing in front of you but a blue-tarp-covered wall, nothing behind you but the end of your life, and then the rebar bolt is shot home with a clank and a thud. And even though you know you did the right thing to come here, you wish desperately that you could have died in your village, surrounded by people you love, whose hands you could touch, whose smiles you could see.
The grain is falling…
~ ~ ~
…but sometimes, time stops.
And on the morning of the sixth day, the nosebleed disappears. And you are weak, so weak, so tired, naked in bed, covered in your own excrement, feebly sipping the ORS and immediately vomiting it up again. But suddenly your nose is not bleeding, and it reminds you that you are more than your illness, more than a body on a cholera bed.
More than anything else in the world, you suddenly want to wash.
And you stagger from the bed, lurching like a cattail in a gale, and your nurse grabs your arm to steady you as you head to the sink. The drain in the floor by the sink is clogged again, and the puddle around your feet is a stew of the unthinkable, but your nurse upends a bucket into the muck and you sit on the clean bucket. Then she is dumping cup after cup after cup of clean, cold water from the tap, over your head, your back, your shoulders your stomach your arms your legs your face your self.
The miasma of Ebola seems to run off your body and puddles on the ground around you, and for four brief minutes you are home, standing in the rushing water of the river, feeling the spray as it hits the rocks, your friends and neighbors downstream scrubbing the laundry, that crazy man from the next village on the other bank washing his moto. The edges of the morning sun are blurred under the haze of the harmattan sands in the wind, the light diffuse and just warm enough to chase off the chill of the night. You breathe deeply, filling your lungs with the smell of all that is familiar and right.
Spent, you stumble back to bed, your nurse lifting your emaciated legs up on the bed, covering you with a clean lapa.
And the next morning, when you wake up and see her eyes smiling down at you through the mask and shield, you clear your throat and whisper, “I am hungry.”