Beads of sweat trickle down skin the colour of molasses and onto the red, barren ground beneath. Her face glistens, slick with the sweat that flattens the coils in her dark hair, in the light of our mud-hut fire. Black smoke fills the air and invades my nostrils, reaching in to the depths of my throat and causing my eyes to water. I watch, helpless, as alabaster teeth bite down on her full lips and break skin, painting her mouth a brilliant ruby red. She grimaces in her delirium-filled sleep, turning this way and that, tortured by sickness.
“Ni ukimwi”. AIDS. That’s what the doctor said, when we managed to get my sister to the collapsing, public hospital after months of waiting for him to return. He was cold and indifferent when he uttered the words from his educated, up-turned lips. Cold like the filth-spotted floor we had sat on for hours till our limbs ached and stiffened, his voice sterile of emotion. I watched him as he wiped crusting spittle from the corner of his mouth with one deft movement, no more different to the way he had wiped out my own sisters life with his words. The only sign of humanity left in him was the fear in his eyes, the slight way in which his hands trembled, noticeable only to those who had known fear all their lives. He was afraid to be here, I had thought to myself. Afraid to get gunned down in a place like this, to be reduced to no more than an equal to someone like me. I remember the flat shine in my sisters deep-set eyes that told me all along she had known. That deep down, in the crevices of her soul that remained hidden away even from me, she had always known.
Now I stand, as still as a stork in hunt, staring into nothing, feeling my heart break and freeze over just as quickly as it had that day. I pull at my clothes, struggling to breathe and I know it is not the thick smoke blown my way by the dry wind, but rather the agony I feel within that is suffocating me. Outside, the cicadas and crickets meld their song in a moving rendition for the heavens and even then, the night sky continues to lie still, starless, and unimpressed. Making my way to the opening of the hut, I breathe in the clear air, steadying my hands for what I am about to do.
“Forgive me Sauda. Dear sweet sister…forgive me.” the words catch in my throat, slowly trickling out of my mouth in silent prayer laced heavily with guilt.
I reach into the pocket of my skirt and drag out a steel knife,clasping my weathered hands around its wooden handle as my mind is suddenly flooded with images of Sauda. I see her in my minds eye as a happy, gap-toothed little girl with her hair intricately woven into plaits. She holds onto the tightly wrapped leso around Mama’s waist with all the confidence of a child that still believes her mother knows everything. The ingrained scent of Mamas spiced plantain in my memory reminding me of how things used to be.
I see her again, much taller than I ever was at her age, slowly ripening and turning sweet like floral honey. Vibrant in the energy of her teenage years and maturing out of her lithe, girlish figure
And now I see what remains of her, as clear as day. This ghost of a soul cannot be the Sauda I grew into womanhood with.
“Amina, nini inakusumbua?…I heard you tal…” her voice, close behind me, falters at the sight of the knife. I turn to face her and her eyes widen, darting from the dull blade to me and back. What’s wrong? Everything. Everything is wrong.
I push the blade into her stomach, all the way to the hilt, feeling her warm blood flow in streams down my wrists and arms. It soaks into her dirty cotton wrap like a flower in bloom that is slowly unfurling its petals. I lay her on the bloodied earth when her breathing stills and close her eyelids, kissing her forehead for the last time. And yet.. where is my justified sense of relief? I saved her didn’t I? I saved her!… And yet the air in the hut smells of sin, washing over me like plague. My desperation magnifies and I shake her. I scream and scream at her and I scream even louder when she feels “oh so stiff” in my arms.
“Sauda please don’t be dead! I don’t know why… I was wrong…you can’t possibly be gone. Your hands sister, your hands…”
I have murdered my dying sister.