A Sigh in Bloom
by Pat Guy
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The doll’s arm slipped from her fingers. A doll of discarded rags and bits of twine softened by a little girl’s hugs, fell to the earthen floor. Sattanya had tried her best to hurry, her chest wheezed from the effort but it had taken too long to go home. “Get dolly please!” her sister choked out her plea. “I neeee – doll-yyyy …” she slurred into unconsciousness, but Sattanya could not run fast enough and now her sister was late. Gone. And Sattanya would follow like all the rest. There was no medicine, and no hope in this land.
Her legs trembled and buckled to the floor as her eyes stayed focused on her little sister’s chest; quiet and still. The tattered doll brushed against her thigh, warm from the long journey in the hot, burning sun. Heat radiated through the medical hut. Flies buzzed their own intrusion landing on coverings of others who had become late that day. Nurses tried, but they didn’t cry – not anymore. They only prayed. But she wanted to hear no more about a God who loves. Their God doesn’t bring medicine – he only takes away, and keeps taking away.
No, their God was not a good god.
She squeezed dolly to her weak chest willing the warmth of her sister to penetrate deep into her heart thinking if she could breathe deep enough her sister would come back – maybe she would see her sister’s chest move. Sattanya coughed and swallowed. She gritted her teeth. She was not going to let this God they speak of see her cry.
Nurse came and knelt down next to her and wrapped her arms around her. She stiffened. She didn’t want to hear anymore about…
Sattanya struggled out of the arms of Nurse and ran. She had no one left at home but she ran, and ran, with dolly in her grasp. She’ll never let it go again.
She didn’t hear the person behind her keeping pace with her own desperate escape. She heard no other sound but the furious beating of her heart and pounding of her soles on dry, packed earth. She heard no greetings, she saw not the Hornbill startled out of the brush into her path.
Sattanya slowed and stopped under an Acai tree sparse of withered shade. Wheezing, coughing, spitting, swallowing – she choked on gasping breaths of dry arid dust. She froze at the labored breathing coming to join her. The panic to hide was trapped by the weakness in her bones. She used to be strong. She couldn’t run, she couldn’t breathe; she couldn’t take care of anyone anymore.
“Go away, Mma,” she wheezed.
Nurse dropped down next to the thick trunk fighting for her own breath.
“Go away!” gurgled Sattanya in pain.
Nurse said nothing. She looked into Sattanya’s eyes. Sattanya looked away and spotted a patch of shade a short distance from Nurse. She plopped down, turned her back and leaned on her hands to give her lungs more room. “Go away, Mma, go away. I don’t want to hear anymore,” she rasped towards hot, empty space.
Nurse said nothing but Sattanya was aware of Nurse having trouble breathing too, “Your God is not good Mma, he does not loves us like you say.”
Nurse said nothing.
“I will take my sister’s dolly to where we all go, I will hold dolly until I am late like her, then I will give it to her.” she reasoned trying to ease the shock of loss.
Nurse did not speak.
Sattanya became silent too. She could now hug her knees to her chest with dolly under her chin. She buried her face in the soft cloth.
“I know of someone who was late like your sister, and his father was very sad like you.” Nurse struggled between puffs.
Sattanya said nothing.
“But He did not stay late.” Nurse continued.
Sattanya lifted her head and dolly fell against her chest. She squeezed dolly to her heart.
Nurse inched a little closer, “Your sister is with Him now, and she is good. He is holding her in his arms and stroking her hair. He waits to hold you too, my little flower…and me.”
Hot, burning tears made streaks in the dust on her cheeks. She tried to wipe them away on a shoulder dry with fever. Nurse touched her arm; she glanced down at the cool thin fingers and wheezed a sigh. She ached, she coughed…she was tired.
She wanted to hear more…
Sattanya/Sethunya: Tswana, South Africa, meaning “bloom, flower.”
The word “late” is an South African term for the passing of life.
“Mma” is the feminine term of respect in speaking to, or greeting a woman.
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This was really captivating! My eyes were glued to the screen as I read it! It was just a teeny bit confusing, like in the very beginning,I wanted to know where the action was taking place, and I wanted to know what was really happening to the young girl, but I could'nt figure it out. But I liked it a lot, all the good descriptions-kept me into it! great job!