It had been a really long day for Mildred and her two children. She had walked 40 kilometres to the nearest health centre and around Yasya town to get the prescribed medication for her two sons. One had pneumonia now tied and soaked on her back. And the other soaked to his knees in red mud, was Simon, her four year old who was diagnosed with kwashiorkor. Mildred’s life was only going to get worse. She got home to no water in the storage pots and her mother in law sprawled on the couch barking orders.
“Where’s dinner? Can you go and cook! You want an old woman to starve to death, ey?”
Mildred shrugged, took the children to their room and stripped them down and wrapped them in one of the tattered blankets she had.
“I am coming back Simon, stay warm in this, keep an eye on Omondi?” Simon nodded.
“Where are you going? Can’t you see it is raining outside?” Mildred’s mother-in-law barked. Mildred ignored her and with a 10 litre jerrican in hand and a bucket balanced on her head she left to go to the river.
The river had swollen almost breaking the banks, Mildred steadily stood on a set of precarious rocks a few inches from the roaring milky river. She quickly filled her containers and balanced them on her head and rushed back to the village.
She opened the kitchen door and the stench of cow dung saturated the room. The cows were in the kitchen. She now had to take them out and round to their shed adjacent to the kitchen. 20 minutes later she was in the kitchen trying to find the kerosene lamp. She felt her way through and found it. Thankfully the matches were near it. To her surprise, the chickens were also in the kitchen. Mildred began to weep. There was no firewood in the kitchen and everything outside was soaked wet. She had ill and hungry children in need of a shower and a hot meal, and a demon mother-in-law demanding food. She stood in the dark room with flickering light in desperate need of saving.
“God why? Why me? All the…” Mildred’s ranting was abruptly cut short; the kitchen door slammed shut and the light went off. The chicken began to fidget and cluck. Mildred tried lighting the candle again and it seemed as if someone was blowing out the match.
“What now? Oh! Right! It can only get worse. What sick joke is this?” She said saracastically
She felt a hand on her shoulder, she jolted and dashed for the door. She rammed into what felt like a human form, but when she tried to touch it, there was no flesh, it was invisible. She screamed attempting to push the form and yank the door open. Hands emerged from behind her and grabbed her by both her wrists.
“Mildred?” A voice gently called out. Mildred peed on herself; she was trembling.
“Mildred, it’s me, don’t – don’t fear!” Mildred was speechless. She fell in a heap to the ground the hands let go of her and the light went on. Mildred blinked to adjust her eyes to the light in the room. She could see the shadow of a man, a familiar shadow.
“Yes, Mildred it is.”
“How is that even possible?”
“Can you remember the last thing I said to you when….”
‘…when I spoke to you last – alive and dying?”Mildred blurted outraged.
“Yes,” the voice said saddened. “Then!”
“Why now? It has been 2 years we have suffered that long, why now?”
“You need help in handling the children, I am here now. Just…”
“…Just what Wellington? Why the hell am I talking to a ghost? Am I mad?” Mildred headed for the door, she opened it and it quickly slammed shut. She could hear her mother-in-law yelling from the main house.
“What are you doing in there? What is taking so long?” Mildred rolled her eyes and cursed loudly.
“Let me help you now, we can go through the details later.” Wellington pleaded.
“FINE! What people do out of desperation? HELP! Ghost of my husband Wellington!” Mildred felt a warm breeze and she was propelled to the stool. Plonk! She sat.
“Let me handle this.” Mildred rolled her eyes while mouthing “fine!”
In 20 minutes flat her food was prepared, bathing water for the children ready and some tea. She took the tea first to her mother-in-law with some biscuits she had bought for the children. She bathed the children who had already drifted into a slumber. She fed them as they dozed in and out of slumber, gave them their medication and ate dinner with her mother in law and by 10 pm everyone was fed, happy and off to bed, except Mildred.
Mildred went back to the kitchen to whip up a cup of some hot milk to drink from the little milk that was left over. She was exhausted in need of a shower herself. She opened the door, the tin lamp was flickering.
“Great! No paraffin!”
“I will solve that?”
Mildred jumped and screamed; luckily she didn’t wake anyone up. She had forgotten her husband or what was an apparition of him in the room.
“Sorry I startled you.”
“It is ok,” Mildred uttered picking herself up from the earthen floor. “I just want a shower and…
“Hot milk!” Wellington finished her statement. “I remember. You always loved your milk.”
Despite the shock and initial repulsion of the idea, Mildred loved hearing her husband’s voice again. She missed him dearly and that night after all the chaos of weeks of ill children and starvation and working for meager pay, she needed to feel safe and cared for. That night Mildred slept in the kitchen in the arms of her husband after hours of talk and laughter, just like he had never left.