Feeling completely wrongfooted with how things have turned out in Yemen, so this entry is just about a boy who was my age at the time. Who knows where he is now, but in my head he’s just where I left him: A little boy in a hospital.
My brother was a permanent revisitor of hospitals. He just couldn’t get by without dropping in at least once a year, sometimes 2 or 3 if he was lucky. Some of these visits he had me to thank for: There was the time when I broke his collarbone. There was the time I gave him a gash behind the ear with a card-board box of all things, that needed a lot of stitches. However, most of his hospital visits had nothing to do with me.
Like a cross between Pig-Pen, from the Peanuts., and Tom Sawyer; Dirt, germs, and trouble naturally gravitated towards him. I’ve lost count of the times the whole family had to be de-wormed and de-loused because of him. I’m not saying I was perfect, I had an arson fixation. I liked setting fire to things. I liked to construct castles and villages out of cardboard, make pretend there was a battle, set fire to it and watch the flames engulf the imaginary world I created. which worried the neighbours AND my mum, but didnt pass germs.(or lice, or ascaris for that matter)
The big accomplishment was having his appendicitis removed at a very young age. As a kid you knew this was something more serious than a broken bone. There was to be something called an operation. Your brother would be put to sleep and they will cut him open and there was a strong chance he might never wake up again. ever. Obviously, this is what I picked up from my mom. My dad was sure there was nothing to worry about, but my mother was on the verge of hysteria. We’ve never had an operation before. With the fuss she raised in the ward, im sure we had all the nurses and doctors passing by to give assurances. Opposite my brothers bed was another bed. Perched on that bed with his hands on the bars was a little boy. dressed in a white gamis and a coat. with a big big smile and a big head of loosely curled brown hair. The expression on his face was that of a kid on his birthday.. Just one big grin. Ear to ear. I remember it clearly.
Later that afternoon my dad and I went back to the hospital with items for my mom who was staying by my brothers side. The operation went fine, it was just a matter of a few days rest for my brother and he would be discharged.
During our absence my mother and this boy got acquainted. He was actually laughing at her. This little 8 year old was actually laughing at her. This I knew because I remember my mother introducing my dad and I to this boy with this sentence: “galis yithhak 3alia!” meaning he’s laughing at me.. My dad asked him jokingly: “Are you laughing at my wife??” The boy said: “Yes, one minute she’s shouting at him, and the next minute she’s crying over him..” (referring to my brother of course). Thats how the conversation started. The little boy then went on to assure, yes assure, my mother that appendicitis operations are routine and nothing to worry about. Okay.
A little later it was dinner time at the ward, for everyone except my brother. The nurses then came and took the boy. Shortly afterwards, they returned with him all wrapped up in a towel, where they proceeded to dress him warm, comb his hair, and tuck him into bed. They then sat on his bed for a long time. Chatting. He seemed to know absolutely everyone. Even the doctors. They were all on a first name basis. I wasnt picking up anything, but my parents were giving each other the puzzled look. My dad was amused. My mother was doing the squinting eye manoeuvres. Whenever she’s in an intense conversation with herself, her eyes would squint and her eyebrows would take a life of their own. I know my mother.
The next morning my mother stopped one of the nurses and asked about that boy. The whole night she was processing information: Au fait with medical terminology and procedure, knew all the doctors and nurses, they all knew him, He had the run of the hospital, and he looked totally at home here. What does this all mean, you can imagine her thinking. The nurse laughed and told her his story. I forgot his name. It was Abdul -something.. So Ill call him Abdo. Forgive me Abdo for not remembering your name. Anyway.
Turns out Abdo had been a resident in this hospital for 8 years. That means all his life. I think, if I remember correctly, the adults were saying it was diabetes. Abdo was born with diabetes. His parents come from a remote village. They knew something was wrong with the child from the beginning. They took the trip to the capital to see what was wrong with him. Upon diagnosis it must have been explained to them what it meant for the future of their child. Obviously this was a conversation that went between the hospital staff and my parents. I was busy making friends. All I was aware of was that this boy was very very very loved. The nurses loved him. The doctors loved him. Even the cleaners loved him. He was everybody’s mate. I didn’t get annoyed at my parents obvious infatuation with the little one. I might have not understood what it was all about but my intuition told me that The Adults are fussing over him because something is wrong with him.
It could be that in those early days, Yemen was not able to deal with his case, or maybe it boiled down to cold logistics and practicalities, but his family never moved to Sana’a. The real reason, no one knows about. Who knows what their circumstances were. But it was also clear that they couldn’t take Abdo with them. There probably, most likely, was no local facility to help him maintain his condition. The choice would have been stark. You have a child with a chronic life threatening condition. He requires constant care. Can you afford to care for him and pay for his medicine that he will depend on all his life. A life we dont expect to last long? No I cant afford it. Can you afford to move to Sana’a. No I cant afford it. The bottom line seems to be that it was agreed that the baby will be left at the hospital. Maybe she came and visited every now and then, whenever they could afford. Maybe the pain made it impossible for her to do so. I dont know. All I know is a boy I found in hospital, was now coming home with us.
That must have been my mothers doing. Clearly she was both upset and charmed by Abdo.. He was cute. He darted all over the place like a ping pong ball the day we came to collect him. He ricocheted all over the inside of the car. Is that your dad’s car?? huh?? is that your dads car?? Are we going to your house?? He was super excited. He was going on a trip. A big adventure. He was besides himself with excitement. smiling smiling all the time, it was like it was painted on his face or something. He was a happy kid. As an adult looking back at him. Im sure his parents must have been in touch.. There was nothing of the orphan feel about him. He was blessed.
He stayed with few weeks. maybe a month or so.. which in a kids time scale is about 10 months. Needless to say when he left, I felt robbed of a brother I actually did want. I can remember being upset about it till today. He completely charmed us. I wonder why he left? did the hospital change their mind? did his mother come back and collect him? Did his village somehow hear that he was taken by some strangers and wanted him back? I never asked.
Its too late now. Ill call my parents tomorrow and ask them why he left.
Wherever he is and however long he lived. I just hope it was written for him to continue to be the happy person he was when we met him in that ward.