Nature was out to make a point: Noah’s forty years of rain could fit into a single night. Hailstones tested the resilience of the tent props, thunderstorm mocked the cloaking frogs, lightening humbled the moon and the stars; Nature was at rage!
Aidipi stood rigid with cold and despair. A carpet of water was now above his ankle. Lightning flashed illuminating a woman and a girl crouched on a log, the only ‘furniture’ in the tent. After hours of prayer Apostle John had left them coughing and shivering even more. The prescription received from Tarafa Health Centre a couple of days back was no much help either.
The tents slept still like a herd of wasted jumbos; dull, humourless heaps with more polythene than canvas. The camp was made possible by well-wishers, with the government promising proper settlement. But that was two years ago. Now the Internally Displaced Persons were no more worthy than a broken pot. The big cars carrying big men reading long speeches with heavenly promises had stopped visiting. So were the cute girls with funny accents and flashy phones. Musicians had since regressed to old but catchier themes: praise for their genius, lost love, found love… As relief dwindled those in charge of the same grew wealthier.
Initially the IDPs had pegged their hopes on the cases pitting big men at The Hague. To their consternation soon the cases metamorphosed into a political banter. What was left of the allure in the cases was further dimmed by desperation, hunger and disease. If any respite ever came hunger and disease would have long had their way with them. Besides, justice without a restoration of their lives and loved ones was no justice at all.
They used to gather under the Mugumo tree to beseech God for a miracle. If only the young had a chance to grow up. Hope, that last line of defence, had ceded ground to despair. They were like the terminally ill who see consolation in a quick death. A man hung himself inside his tent just the other day. His death triggered a rampage in which scores were maimed. It was no longer a camp but a cemetery of dead men walking.
Aidipi set out at the break of dawn. He slithered in semi-darkness, a tall, meatless lad harbouring more determination than skill. His stomach was rumbling, his lungs were screaming for nicotine and his whole body was shaking like a volcano raring to erupt. However, as the hinge of his family, he couldn’t allow his woes to take centre stage.
The headlights of an approaching car sent his heart racing. With luck he won’t have to trek the ten kilometres. He waved and jumped frantically as the car approached.
The car spent past, its tail dancing perilously in the mud. Aidipi grabbed a stone and hurled it at the car. Failure to hit the car riled him more than its failure to stop. He cursed bitterly and began to run. He should be back soon if his mother and sister were to be saved. The resultant heat from running was like a mother’s embrace. Hopefully it would be a sunny day. Lord, how he wished for a sunny day!
The town was just shaking itself up when Aidipi arrived. Tarafa thrived on the robust agricultural economy in the area. Being among the first safe stops from the conflict prone Molo it had hosted its fair share of IDPs over time. Here, a mere ten kilometres from the camp, was another world. Hope and purpose were manifest in the busy humanity: on their beaming faces; in their trendy attires and springy gait. Their electric smiles said it all; it was a night to remember. Some waved each other, others stopped to shake hands and wish each other good health. To them the rain was too little too late. They would plant corn and beans, roses and ferns and tulips and pray for more rain. Their kids would sing and dance in the rain. ‘Let it rain, let it rain!’
Aidipi knew the experience. A couple of years back he would be falling asleep this moment and his mother would be shaking him up for school the next. For no apparent reason the tap-tap of the rain against the zinc roof made sleeping all the sweeter. Oh yes, the night could be short and the rain could be a blessing. But those were memories now. It had been two years yet it seemed ages ago. How could one be so close yet so far? How could one belong and yet not belong? Two years earlier they had thought themselves poor. However, in hindsight, they had been tycoons. Like Job they had fallen from plenty to deprivation. Aidipi doubted their restoration would come as Job’s did.
Vehicles zoomed past, their lights saying this and that, their horns asserting their right of space. Traders were opening their shops ready for the day’s action. Aidipi’s legs lost their courage as he came upon the desolate woman outside Tarafa Health Centre.
‘A companion at last,’ the woman said trying to sooth her crying baby.
‘Can they treat one at home?’ Aidipi asked.
‘It’s eight and the place is a tomb. If they did one would die before they can pack their syringes. Who is sick?’
‘My mother and sister. They can barely stand.’
Aidipi sat on a stone and capped his head in his hands. A hillock just became a hill. How was he going to bring his mother and sister over?
‘Get a taxi.’
Aidipi thanked the woman crossed over to a car with ‘taxi’ sitting on its roof. The driver sat on the bonnet speaking on the phone.
‘My mother and sister are very sick,’ Aidipi blasted the moment the man terminated his call. ‘I need to bring them to the hospital.’
‘Where are they?’
‘Shauri Yako Camp.’
‘It will cost you three thousand.’
‘I have no money.’
‘In other words you can’t be helped.’
‘I will pay you when I can, please.’
Aidipi struggled to fix the driver’s throaty laugh. What was funny?
‘Look son, I hate being up this early in this bitch weather but my firstborn is almost here. He will need money.’
‘They are dying.’
‘You better find the money fast, then.’
The driver dialled his phone and moved aside.