An old fan in the corner, blades caked in dust, is blowing on me. The fan came with the house, just like everything else. It has taken me months to adjust to living in a furnished place with only few of my belongings around me. I turn the house upside down looking for the small cheese grater or a specific bed sheet, before realising that item belonged in that other life.
The life before this.
I have been curled up on the couch, my throat on fire and body racked by fever for three days. The doctor and more medication are on the other side of the island. My new workplace is pressuring me to come in. But I have no will to move from this space.
All the slatted windows are fully open, their mosquito net covering distorts my view of the lush garden. The humidity demands extra energy and the soupy air is coated in cloying scent. Today it is frangipani and smoke from a garden rubbish fire nearby. A gecko scuttles across the wall before becoming motionless in the corner where it will sit for the next half hour.
The noise of the fan rattling makes even my teeth hurt. I long to switch it off so I can hear the ocean breaking on the reef but the stirring of the air is giving an illusion of a cooler place.
The front screen door slams and Mama appears. She stands over me wide legged, her ample frame covered in a tent-like dress. Her dark eyes take in everything; the bottle of water, a half eaten starfruit, the empty blister pack of pain medication. Mama lives at the bottom of the hill with various members of her family from tiny babies and fat-legged toddlers to sisters, cousins, and aunts. The only constant people at the house are Mama and her husband, Papa. I don’t know their real names. They introduced themselves as Mama and Papa. The children are always known as boy or girl.
Mama tells me the work motorbike had been taken from the parking space near her house. The boss must have needed it for one of the other interns.
“He told me you were sick. I said that you might need the bike for the doctor. But he just waved.” Her large cool hand pressed against my forehead. “So sick, little one. But Mama brought you this. I had a feeling.”
She pulls a poultice, wrapped in folded leaves, out of a plastic grocery bag and places it across my forehead. It has a pulling coolness and I can feel the heat begin to drag from my body.
“I’m going to make a brew as well, little one.”
I push myself up to sitting. Holding the poultice with one hand and trying to focus my vision.I should be treating her as a guest. It is customary to offer food and gifts the first time someone has come into your home.
“Mama, I can make tea.”
“Not tea, little one. Brew. Lie down. Don’t waste my medicine.”
I can hear her bare feet on the tiles in the kitchen and the opening and closing of cupboards.
“Little one, these cockroaches.” I had been thwarted by the cockroaches early on and had only succeeded in keeping them out of my bed by way of a mosquito net. They ran rampant everywhere else. Mama, laughing in that local rumbling way, continues “You can borrow the cat.”
She brings a lukewarm brew that is bitter and biting, and indicates that I must drink. After a few mouthfuls, I break out in a sweat. The raw burning that was in my throat has moved to light up every cell in my body. The poultice seems to be getting colder as it continues to pull at the heat from my head.
The clash of fire and ice knocks me out.
I awake to find Mama seated on the floor, making a handheld fan out of dried pandanus leaves. She has a pile of finished ones next to her in a woven coconut palm basket.
The electric fan is silent.
“The sickness has finished, little one.” She hands me one of her fans. “Simple is better.” And she is gone.