It was 11pm, the day after we arrived in Massangulo. I sat perched on the edge of a small bed in the room of our best friends here. We had been called to say our friend was really sick but by the time we arrived, he had already passed. I sat there aware of the warmth of his leg radiating through the blanket pressed against my back. His wife sat on the bed behind me, every now and then shaking his legs under the blanket, desperate attempts to wake him up. The small room was packed: ten or so neighbours and family members, our village chief – the dead man’s sister, and three uzungus. People had heard the news and gathered to see what was going on and start mourning. Others sat outside, scattered around the yard.
I’m not sure how long I sat there, tears streaming down my face, the sleeves of my orange hoody covered in snot and desperately praying for a miracle. After some time, some more neighbours arrived. The man, a chief judge in our court here, arrived in a suit and thongs and quietly and kindly asked me to move off the bed. I’m not sure that he really knew what he was doing but he seemed to command the room nonetheless.
I moved to a small stool near the bed, behind a woman who had been crying on and off the whole time we’d been there. As the judge reached his hands under the blanket to feel the body, the woman started to weep again. I placed my hand on her shoulder and rocked her gently. With his hands under the blanket on my dead friend’s arm, the judge turned and looked me in the eye and asked, “Weren’t we just together today?” I nodded a reply. He too seemed baffled by the sudden loss.