Sunday, October 19, 2008
Turning back to the courtyard, my eyes adjust to the bright sunlight. Our brothers toddle in the dust among the chickens and goats, giggling and discovering stones. I half-smile at the sight and then check the position of the sun. Soon a group of neighbor kids will be rushing by, squealing and chattering and gossiping and playing pranks, as usual. And I'll try to wake Anna so we can join them.
Normally I would be in school right now, but Anna was feeling too weak to go this morning, and I decided to stay with her. Anna is my best friend.
We learned to walk and talk together while our mothers carried water and cooked over charcoal fires and scrubbed clothes together. When our baby brothers were born, we quickly mastered the art of carrying them on our backs as we played.
Then Anna's mother and father both got sick and died. She and her brother moved in with us. We learned how to cook and clean for ourselves when my mother got sick, too. Soon my mother was gone, and my father died not long after.
Some neighbors from church offered us a spot on the floor of their hut to sleep. The lady was happy for our help with the housework, but she soon made it clear that there was barely enough food for her own family to eat. Anna and I snuck portions from the cooking pots for our brothers. We climbed mango trees for green mangos, checked out trash heaps, and begged food wherever we could.
Then a man came by and told us about a center opening up for AIDS orphans, where they would provide food every day for lunch! We ran to the site and found men working on an unfinished cement block building. Some of the village ladies there who knew us signed us up on their roster and told us to come back the next day after school for a meal.
So we've been going there every day. We sing songs and pray. They serve soup and bread and fortified pap. Some days they give away used clothing or school supplies. And so we survive, unless AIDS takes us away.
I think Anna will die, just like our parents have. Many of our friends at the AIDS orphan center are sick, and some have died already. I've been watching both of our brothers by myself, and I think my brother is getting sick, too.
I'm one of the lucky ones. I don't have any symptoms. Since the orphan center has opened, I've been feeling stronger and more energetic.
And I wonder why. Why me? Why not Anna? Why not my mother? What am I supposed to contribute to this world?
The group of chattering orphans comes by our hut. They call for Anna and me. I quickly rouse her, helping her up and staying close by to support her. If she can get some food today, she will feel better. For a little while. Our brothers toddle behind, some of the other kids prodding them in the right direction when they get distracted.
At the center, we sit in orderly rows as the village ladies start the songs. I look solemnly at the cold, unfinished walls surrounding us, at the other orphans. This room is haunted, filled with memories of lost fathers and mothers, broken homes and wounded hearts.
Filled with the ghosts of Mozambique.
This post has been submitted to Scribbit's Write Away contest. The characters are fictitious, but based on reality. Come back on Wednesday for the story behind the story in our Wordless and Wordful Wednesday posts.