Illustration for Firewords Magazine


I stood there contemplating the two doors.  Orange has always had both a calming yet invigorating effect on me.  But green was the color of the engagement ring.  The most stunning and perfectly cut emerald I had ever seen.  He’d been apologetic when he’d proposed. “I promise to replace it with a diamond someday,” he’d said while down on one knee.  We were both fresh out of medical school, high on love, and debt.  But I hadn’t needed a diamond.  I hadn’t need it then, and I didn’t need it now.  I’d only ever needed him, I thought, my chest tight, eyes welling with tears.

We were supposed to be doing this together, I thought to myself, heart filled both with grief and hope for the cause that we’d dreamed up together.  I took a deep breath and walked to the green door.  I opened it and looked onto a large room with a row of four-pane windows lining one wall.  Two of the windows were shattered, all were smudged with dirt.  The tile floor was covered with a blanket of sand, a vestige of the most recent sandstorm.  A maroon sofa stood to the left.  Other than the layer of sand it carried, it appeared to be in decent shape underneath. This could work for the waiting area.  Do they have furniture cleaning and restoration here?  Along the back wall, there were twelve twin beds, each housed on a wire frame.  These looked brand new. I’ll need curtains to separate them.  I looked up at the ceiling.  The lighting needs to be improved.  I’ll need to go into town to hire construction workers.  A feeling of dread came over me.  These matters are known on this side of the world to take much longer than back at home.  I’d be dealing with an entirely different variety of bureaucratic red tape here.  Workers accustomed to a different pace of life, and those that could be motivated only by a bribe.  We knew all this coming in.  But I thought he’d be by my side.  He would’ve known exactly how to handle those issues.

My thoughts were interrupted by a shuffle of footsteps behind me.  I turned around and saw a middle-aged woman in a traditional local garb, a bright gown of orange, red, and brown.  “Hello,” she said shyly, lowering her gaze.  It was a mark of respect.  “You are Dr. Kolassa?”

“Yes,” I said.  “And you must be Uzoma.”

The woman nodded.

“It’s so nice to finally meet you,” I said.

“Same,” she said in a thick accent.  “We are very excited that you open free clinic for our village.”

“Yes, we’re excited too,” I said out of habit, instantly realizing my slip of the tongue.  His face was vivid in my mind and in my heart, as was the plan we’d talked about ever since our residency.  I said a silent prayer for my husband’s soul, smiled, then repeated more confidently this time, “we’re excited too.”