I opened my eyes and saw nothing. First the sounds of rain reached me, then the spray from a water drop. Lightning made the room bright for a blink of an eye. I reached down and pulled the blanket over my head ready for the sound. The deafening thunder made me still shudder.
It began to get hot and I pulled down the blanket. I brought my right hand in front of my face. I touched it with the other to make sure it was there. Another drop of water sprayed on my face. If it was daytime I would have stood outside trying to catch the rain with my tongue, and then the face. When my grandma was around, I’d only stick my hands out to catch the row of flowing water from the ribbed tiles. My uncle, Sasimama taught me how to bend a thin falling stream by keeping my hand close to it.
Lightning struck again. I could see Sasimama’s sleeping form on the cot at a right angle to me. I had pleaded for the cot near the small window with thick wooden bars.
‘kraadadadadadommmm.’ Up went the blanket again.
How could he sleep through all this?
Sasimama told me he worked long hours at the medical college. He even took me there. Quite a few times. Once he took me to the mortuary. At the end of the big room on a bench there were people stacked up. Although the windows were darkened with paint, some light fell through the peeled paint on the person at the top. The person was small and did not move. They were naked. I could not make out if they were men or women. I looked at the dark forms, going down one by one. There was a person below the bench partly covered by dirty and torn newspaper sheets.
“Why are they lying there?”
“They are dead bodies.”
“Do they have names?”
“I could check them for you.”
I never found out their names.
I felt a pain in my stomach. Did I wake up from the pain or the rain? I had to go to the bathroom.
” Sasimama .” My cry was drowned by the roll of thunder.
I waited. “Sasimamaaaa.” I could hear the shuffle of the blanket.
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
He shone a torch at my face and then to the floor.
“Go on,” and pointed the light at the brown doors in an elevated corner of the room.
“Not pee. I have to go to the toilet.”
“Now? In the middle of the night?” He made no move to get up.
“Ohhhh. I have to go.” I begged holding my stomach.
He got up and we went down the narrow wooden stairs. The heavy wooden doors opened with a creak and led to the quadrangle. Tiles from four sides sloped down and opened on top of this sunken place. The rain made a lot of noise falling and shattering on the concrete floor.
To go the toilet Sasimama had to open another set of heavy doors.
“Let me open.” I pushed Sasimama away.
I reached up and tried to pull sideways the lower wooden bar from its locking position. It did not budge.
“Why is it so tight?”
“Wood expands due to moisture from the rain. I will push the other door so they are level. Try now.”
The bar came out. Sasimama held me up to remove the second bar.
The doors opened inward. We stepped down on to the verandah that ran the entire length of the house. The sounds of opening doors woke up my grandma. She came to the verandah with her big shiny metal torch. Behind her two of her sisters appeared with torches of their own. Inside, I heard the youngest grand aunt opening another set of doors and waking up her husband.
Like Sasimama , my grandma also was a doctor. She poked my stomach. How did she know.
“Does it hurt here?”
I pulled at the suspenders of my khaki trousers trying to figure out where it pained.
“It was hurting there. Now it has gone.”
Sasimama had this funny expression on his face. “Did it really hurt, or do you just want to go into the rain?”
“No. I was not lying.”
My grand uncle picked me up and stood me up on the low cement parapet. Six adults stood in front of me. By then Sasimama pumped up the Petromax.
Grandma asked if I really wanted to go to the bathroom.
“Yes. I really do.”
Sasimama took my slippers from the rack above. At night, all slippers get transferred to the wooden rack just below the sloping roof. I wore them and jumped down. Grandma opened a big umbrella and proceeded to take me.
“I can go alone. Just give me a torch [flashlight].
Even in the dark, I could see the white washed wa”lls of the toilet. For my small feet, it was 356 steps to the outhouse that had three toilets and a bath house.
I stepped into the rain and shivered. I tried to hold the umbrella with one hand and hold the rain with the other. The umbrella slipped and slid to my shoulder. I caught it on my shoulder and locked it tilting my head. I made my way up the steps stepping in and out of at least three beams of torch lights.
I jumped into a puddle. It was more fun without the umbrella.
“No. you are not stepping out of the umbrella.” Sasimama shouted. They all shouted, I thought. The grand family was watching my every move.
I stepped under the roof and closed the umbrella. I went in, lit the torch and kept it on the ledge inside one of the heavy bronze water jars. The torch rolled a few times throwing its light on the tiles and cobwebs between the wooden rafters. I sat down on my haunches with the door open, looking out at the dark sky.
The next flash of lightning stayed for a longer time. Through the leaves and the trees it looked like a live electric wire from the heavens. I flattened my ears trying to hold my head.
Did those people die from lightning? Sasimama will know. If I die, will I have a place on top of the bench? Will they put me under it? I will always keep the umbrella above me when I play in the rain.