With this, Maya and Aman thanked Solomon and indicated to the guards that they were through. The one who had escorted Solomon nodded at him. Solomon rose without a word and began to trace the guard’s footsteps out of the room. The other guard distractedly fingered the barrel of his shotgun as he hovered impatiently beside the door. Gathering her notepad and pencil, Maya hurried out as Aman and then Mwembe followed. When they reached the prison exit, Maya slid her notepad under her blouse, already damp beneath the arms, as they stepped out into the storm. The stone path that lay unevenly spaced before them released the smell of fresh rain. Maya began to hop over the small islands, which sunk like heavy lily pads into the coagulating mud. Continuing in single file, Aman followed, then Mwembe. Up ahead their driver Prince waited for them in his white van, which shone bright with new paint, looking somehow untouched by the rains. Maya opened its rear door, explaining Solomon’s directions to Prince as she climbed over books, cassette tapes, his child’s teddy bear that was missing an ear, and a small panga knife. Before stepping in after her, Aman turned to scan the prison. The prisoners must have found shelter from the storm on the other side, he thought, for not even a guard was in sight.
Driving in Malawi was like putting life in Death’s arms and crossing your fingers that She would be in the mood to cradle rather than crush you. In place of lane dividers and speed limits, potholes and animal carcasses marked the roads. Overhead, the heavy rain that bounced off the roof of their van grew louder as Prince turned up the Malawian pop to drown it out. As he skillfully wove through the other vehicles, Maya drafted questions for Solomon’s parents while Aman kept his focus on the invisible lane that lay outstretched before them. An authority abruptly interrupted the broadcast to inform them that judges across the nation were walking out of their courthouses. Higher pay was necessary if the taxpayers wanted to see justice served in this country. Maya and Aman both stared blankly at the seat backs in front of them.
Then, up ahead, Aman spotted a pile-up. As they approached, strewn bodies appeared, large and small, in the trajectory of their speeding van. Aman sucked in a startled breath, and Maya looked up. “Oh god,” she said and glanced nervously at the back of Prince’s head, silently imploring him to slow down. He eased off the gas a few notches and glanced in the rearview mirror. “Can’t stop.”
The students said nothing as they passed the vehicles, of which there were three, and the bodies, of which there were nine—four on the ground and five standing. It was the freshest death Maya had ever seen. As they passed the wreck, she noticed an arm lying several feet away from its owner who was lying face down, her long thin hair plastered to the pavement. Maya closed her eyes.
A crack at her window suddenly sounded, and her eyes flew open to meet the twisted face of a child staring back at her. Unblinking, the child squatted beside the armless woman. Then, before Maya knew it, it was all behind her, a fleck in the distance.
By the time Prince turned off the highway, the rains had subsided and the great Malawian sun broke through, hovering low in the sky. “Eesh!” Prince kept repeating as the van stumbled through the sunken hollows lined thick with mud. Upon turning a corner, they spotted a whitewashed building with a black cross painted on its side when the wheels began to spin. Maya, Aman, and Mwembe agreed to jump out and proceeded the rest of the way on foot.