Eight-year-old Maya is quite unlike her cousin Guddi (of my post ‘Come my house?’). She rarely smiles (I have seen it only once), and is almost completely mute. There is an entrenched sadness in her black eyes, a sadness so profound it defies the false cheerfulness one so often puts on for children. There is something unreachable about Maya – yet the futility of trying doesn’t stop me; I just can’t not.

I have taken the next few paragraphs, almost word-for-word, from an entry dated 26th September in my diary. The events and feelings I try to verbalise there have since been dulled somewhat, smoothed over as they recede into the eventful recent-past. But at the time of writing they were very present.

Maya didn‘t come to school today for the third day running. I asked Guddi and Laxmi [Maya’s ten-year-old sister] where she was, and they acted out the symptoms of fever; Guddi repeated “Very hot, very hot.” I asked whether Maya had been to see a doctor, and they said not. Helen and I left Rekha [the local teacher who helps us here] to take the sewing class alone, and walked down to Maya’s house, which is next to Guddi’s. We found Maya hot, drowsy and largely ignored (their alcoholic father was lying on the only bed, coughing and retching). Children crowded around us; there was a dirty baby on the floor with flies around its eyes – like the ones in Oxfam appeals, but without the comforting distance of TV. We left the house for the local hospital. Despite her initial resistance, I held Maya‘s hand all the way: I felt that by holding it, I was somehow holding everything together.

The hospital was one of the most disgusting, depressing places I’ve ever seen. Mothers and babies lined the grimy corridors, waiting to be seen; the metal beds in the dingy doctors’ rooms were stained with patches of dried blood; medicine wrappers, and used bandages and syringes littered the floors. Maya was standing stiffly, and breathing rapidly. She had a blood test – a small prick on her finger – and we sat in the corridor waiting for the results. Laxmi was giggly, excited by the attention our appearance in the hospital had provoked, and unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation – or perhaps just immune to it, its seriousness lessened by the frequency of fever here.

The test came back indicating that Maya had malaria. I felt sick. The weight of responsibility was suddenly enormous. She was given an injection in the side of her hip, and let out a small yelp of pain – one of the only sounds I’ve ever heard her make. We paid the 80 rupees (about £1) for her treatment and walked back out into the heat.

On reaching their house, we were once again surrounded by children and noise. A tiny, smiling girl grabbed both my hands and held them tight. I looked at her upward-tilted face and met an expression of instinctive, question-less trust. It was suddenly unbearable. There was a desperate screaming in her broad, excited smile that only I could hear. I wanted to run, to shut the door on them, on all those children and their poverty and everything they wanted from me.

Hours later I lay flat, and bloodless, on my outdoor bed; the hospital, the family, and Maya’s hollow eyes had emptied me of all energy. I felt both leaden and vaporous; crammed with the sights and smells of the morning, but Unbearably Light.

~ by Griselda Murray Brown on January 19, 2009.

4 Responses to “Maya”

  1. I continue to read your posts, rapt and alternately emotional and marvelling. It all seems so far away, but your descriptions and the pictures bring it all a little closer. Keep writing 🙂 Hope your spirits remain strong. With much love, M xxx

  2. Namaste Iswim – I have just caught up with your blog wonderful stuff beautifully written and moving accounts – it brings it all back but you have gone so far beyond my tourist experience I’m embarrassed to make any comparison. Keep up the blogging I am an avid fan! Uncle tis

  3. Hi Gris, its Emad, hope ur well. i’ve been reading these blog entries on and off, to say they’re well-written is kind of pointless because thats not why ur writing them. they are very interesting, i hope you find what ur looking for, and hope to see you soon. Dont think of Blighty, there’s not too much here x

  4. […] I mentioned above (and relate in greater length in a previous post) Maya got malaria in September, my first month in Setrawa. Helen and I took her to hospital, where […]

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