Breakwater café served the best breakfast and smoothies in Honiara. Like many other expats who thronged this place, BWC’s smoothies and quiche were a religious part of my weekend routine. Beginning my Saturday mornings here by the Ocean was in itself a meditative experience while dealing with the stressful ways in which my medical practice in this country had frazzled at its edges.
The capital of Solomon Islands was nicely perched between the Pacific and the hills with a floating population that moved from the rural interiors to few who could afford to live inside the town itself. A narrow stretch of road, snaked along the ocean line, strung with hotels like pearl and jade. This road connected the relatively posh city, and would be jammed in the mornings with workers, business owners and shopkeepers driving into the city. Saturday was a market day, and the main square, by the church and the marketplace. The latter was bustling with people at the stalls piling up on their weekly stock of fish, bread, coconut water and meat. I preferred walking the stretch from the café to the main hospital campus, passing right through the folks who were rushing into the chapel to offer their weekly prayers.
I had been living in Honiara for over a year now; renting a basic cottage room on the hillside. The cerulean skies and indigo sea came in varying shades of azure. These days there were fewer people in town as most expats, who worked in aid industry, had left the shore for the safety of their homes. For those who remained, work had become daunting as essential services which relied on foreign funding, were disrupted. Some of my close friends from Australia had left the Island before the country recoiled like a snake protecting whatever is left of its treasure. I had not foreseen my inability to travel later on in the year and had felt the fortitude of staying back and be of service.
My home was the only sanctuary when everything else was seemingly becoming alien to me. I had devoted some time and resources to keep my home as a shrine of my past, that retained my identity, revealed some of my cultural smells and aesthetics, as a reminder of a person I used to be, of the world I came from.
Deciding not to leave the island was tough. It seemed providence had already decided for me. There was little that I looked forward to in the UK, which was home until two years ago. Not having a home in a country that I belonged to did not frazzle me anymore. I had buried these disappointments deep-inside a remote corner of my heart, in a vault I’d vowed never to open up again. I was successful professionally, content with my research, and grateful for being able to continue medicine in these difficult times. My work drove me, and I felt useful to be of use after all this while. I worked six days a week, and in 12 hour shifts each day. I will be 35 tomorrow, and still felt as if my life was not lived to its fullest.
I was late for the hospital today and felt as disheveled while entering as I had last night while leaving. I had called in saying that I would only arrive by noon. As a doctor I was supposed to have become immune to emergencies – they were part of my training and practice. I had discussed with some colleagues the helplessness and lack of motivation that plagued the workforce but work never seemed to stop. What if this was the end of the road for me? I could no longer function with sanity while surrounded by destitution, lack of funds and inefficient staff support.
When I reached the campus, I heard commotion from the children’s center on the fourth floor. This section restricted parents’ entry in general wards, while those in separate rooms required special permissions to venture about. I was scheduled for a tonsillitis surgery later in the afternoon. The reception was heavy-duty, there were numerous callers worried about their appointments for the weekend as newer restrictions were announced last night. An old man was on the line, who sounded distressed, and I could only hear him mutter. I repeatedly advised him to book a cab and get his injured grandson to the hospital; the ambulances were busy and would not have reached him on time. Meanwhile, two nurses in the opposite corridor were trying to restrain a hysterical unnamed woman, who was trying to sneak out of the children’s ward. In a flash, several things happened in a slow-motion sequence; two ward boys rushed past the crowd of patients to defuse the situation; the woman broke out of the frenzy and reached the balcony to my right; she clambered up in a jiffy and within a fraction of a second jumped off before anyone could even reach her.
One of the nurses shrieked and yelled, while the ward boys proceeded downstairs. The doctor came out, followed by nurses who wheeled the unnamed woman’s child in a chair towards the oncology center. The cancer had advanced and so had the virus.
As I clambered to reach the steps of my apartment at dawn, my eyes were red, and the fragrance of frangipani engulfed my senses and the flowers on the pavement tiredly caressed my feet. The fallen flowers were as beautiful as the ones still above, and I picked them up to arrange them on my mantle, gracefully restoring their glory. These fleeting silences and nameless entities brought my strength back each day, the lone tree and its shady presence invited the breeze to my porch. My pores yearned for more as I was welcomed by a shaft of wind, but all I received were few more flowers kissing the earth below my feet.