Sitting in my living room, Kodjo told me about a recent accident. He said a truck had hit a married Peace Corps couple as they were crossing a small bridge on a motorcycle. The two of them were friends of mine. Kodjo said he had heard that they were headed home from a local market where they stopped to have some beers with me. Then the news got worse.
They were riding a shitty local bike that couldn’t handle the slippery dirt and the washboard in the roads. And while their bike was bad, their marriage might have been worse. They were under the common stress all volunteers face living in a taxing foreign environment. But they had the added strain of being newlyweds and that also took its toll. I’d seen Bruce get angry with Tanya, and he’d done it again after we met at the market. He seemed to grow angrier and more morose in proportion to how much beer had flowed. And we had quite a bit that afternoon.
“He thought he could beat an on-coming truck across a one-lane bridge,” Kodjo told me. “He judged it wrong. The truck crushed his leg and knocked them both over the side into a stream. They plan to amputate his leg today. But because Bruce was bleeding so much, he got more attention than Tanya. That turns out to have been a mistake. She got a bacterial infection – gaseous gangrene -and there wasn’t much they could do. I’m sorry, Mike. Tanya died yesterday.” Kodjo left a short time later. I sat alone in my living room as dusk turned into dark. I couldn’t even bring myself to light my kerosene lantern.
It was a Sunday. I know because that’s the day I took my Chloroquine malaria tablet. I generally took it in the morning because of its affect on me. As it did to many others, it gave me terrible dreams if I took it late. I’d forgotten to take a tablet that morning so I took the bitter pill as soon as Kodjo left. Then I headed off to bed.
That night I slept as badly as I ever have. At one point about three in the morning I awoke with a start. Mobi-ja, my houseboy, stood leaning over me, his face inches from my own. I tried to push against him so I could sit upright. But he jumped back and then slumped against the wall. “What do you want?” I demanded.
When he refused to answer, I jumped out of bed. “I asked you what you want?” I said again. And I reached out to grab his arm. But I must have suddenly awoken because whatever I was talking to had completely disappeared. It might have been the Chloroquine, or the shock of Tanya’s death. It may have been a combination of the two. But whatever it was – dream, ghost, whatever – it left me totally freaked out. And I remained that way for a very long time, though I was too afraid of sounding crazy to mention it to anyone in town.