“My wife was very sick with children,” the man responded to the air above him. “For a long time, she just lay inside, right there,” he pointed through the door into the darkness. “Death was coming, but then She didn’t.”
“I’m very sorry,” Maya stated. She sat down in the soil, which had already begun to dry out and crack. That she was dirtying her skirt made Aman uncomfortable so he offered to go find a log, but she waived him off.
Maya informed the couple that their son appeared to be doing fine and that they were there to help him. Aman explained that to do so, they needed more information. Pausing for a reaction, the students saw nothing. The woman gazed through them at the sun, which was setting into the corn. When the man finally nodded, Maya and Aman proceeded.
They began with general questions about their jobs (they were corn farmers until the pests destroyed their crop), did they attend church (never), and did they have any other family (they gestured to the man inside). Cognizant of the dimming light, Aman quickly shifted their focus to Solomon.
“Was he ever in school?”
“No,” the father said flatly.
“Did he work?”
“He collected rodents for a very long time,” the man said. Aman looked at Mwembe. “When he was older, firewood.”
“Did people pay him for the mice?” Maya inquired, confused.
He was always chasing after rodents, Solomon’s father went on, in the fields, all day long. Aman saw that the children had multiplied. He counted eight, but more were coming through the rows of corn to the west. They stood quietly, a few flicking their tongues at the crusted mucus that lined their upper lips. As the students continued to ask questions, the father scratched and picked at his elbows while the mother was distracted by something hovering above Maya and Aman.
Expanding in number and in whispers, the children’s presence was beginning to destroy any hope for privacy. When Maya got up to waive them away, they scattered backward, holding their hands impishly behind their backs. Within moments, however, they returned in greater numbers, bringing with them the taller ones. Some had soft hair on their upper lips and others had fuller hips, but malnutrition bestowed an ageless mystery upon them all.