A Dry Season Doctor in West Africa

Land Shark by Tobias Oggenfuss

Land Shark by Tobias Oggenfuss

Little girl, small pikin, abandons her friends and a game of hopscotch, runs quick-quick through dirt-swept streets, bounds barefoot over littered paper and plastic, runs to her father with her itchy toes.

Papa sits on a low, wood stool, contemplating young soccer players on a nearby field, village athletes whose feet beat air into the dirt. Wagging tongues of lace-less shoes lap up grains of sand, imitate small whirlwinds from the Sahel.

An old woman in a green caftan peers into an empty well, lowers a bucket into it all the same, waits to hear it hit the water table rock. Behind her, a waiting line coils around and chokes a baobab for shade.

The girl finds her father on his cement front porch, feet turned out and chin in hand. She holds her foot up like a fist, shakes it in his face, twists his ear with a scream. Take it out! Now-now! It scratches.

He commands her to fetch a bottle of alcohol and two big cotton balls. Go to Mama’s sewing kit, bring me the silver needle with the fire-blackened tip, he says. He ducks into the kitchen for the carton of matches with a picture of a boxer on it.

They assemble their tools on the porch. Papa studies her toes in the light of a harmattan-hooded sun, his corn-and-cotton-farm-worn hands function like mechanical clamps for her foot, his dented fingernails go to work for his daughter.

Her hands clasp his khaki-clad shoulder, his calluses tickle her arch. Ai! he says. Little lady, wife of so-and-so, your husband won’t be happy, if you live with a half-eaten toe.

She presses her toes together.  I will never marry, she says. Jamais dans cette vie! Where can I find a man like you? She shakes her foot. Hold still, he says. And I hope you didn’t scratch it.

He steadies needle to toe, needle to toe, squints with the wrinkled concentration of a sun-baked archaeologist, gently excavates the devil beneath her skin. It takes him a while, the better part of an hour, to finish the job.

He doesn’t want to burst the white sack and send out an invisible trickle of greedy eggs. This parasite could be a mother with vampire babies to feed. He digs around, does not disturb this flesh-eating creature.

With the little girl’s skin peeled back in needle-cut strips, he scoops out the milky jigger, a maggot with a black full-stop dot of a head. He places it on a cotton ball, strikes a match. I want to see, please! She watches the jigger writhe on its fiery deathbed.

Papa slides the needle through a new flame, sterile. He presses alcohol-soaked cotton over the crater in her little toe. It burns. She feels clean. But, for days, trouble stirs in her foot.

The itching grows. Always, she runs to him. And sighs, in passing, for the girl who has no father. She fetches the tools—needle, matchbox, alcohol, and cotton balls—and goes in search of him.

He is her dry season doctor who cures her the best he can. He holds her toes, spreads them like rust-colored coins in his hands. Helps her learn and remember what love must look like.

He is her dry season doctor and she makes the most of him.

~ Viola Allo

Viola Allo is a Cameroonian-born poet based in the United States. Her chapbook of poems, ‘Bird From Africa’, is included in the Eight New-Generation African Poets chapbook box set published in 2015 by Akashic Books and the African Poetry Book Fund. Viola writes at her blog, Letters to Cameroon.