The Healing of Santo Yeboah

About halfway down Via Mazzini, just before the train tracks, a van pulled out of a side street, clipping Santo’s bike and collecting his back wheel for a scudding stretch. Santo hit the wet tar with an elbow, one foot drawn under the tyre’s frilled circumference and his head hitting so hard it felt like a light tap. They said these things happened in slow motion, an age to screen that limpid personal Judgement Day while you were adrift. But there wasn’t an instant between the time he was peddling home and when he was the moaning target for the next slithering vehicle.

The car veered around. Screeched, took off.

Santo tried to work out which of his parts was still working. There was a wet mash on one side of his face, now burning. His legs were cobbled to him and one arm he could lever slightly, so he dragged his body between the bumpers of two parked cars. He saw his bicycle squeezed together, pinned over itself, the leather seat spun out over the double lines. Seeing reds and blacks he began to pray for the flight of his soul.

He heard people on the footpath. Sergio, second me la Laura è incapace — . Then, hours later, or perhaps it was the same woman talking. Ma non era qui il posto — . He started to call them. But knew they would think he was another staggering black drunkard. Santo’s hand like an uncouth device was always left in the air when he collected change. His calls collapsed in his throat as though he’d never spoken their tongue.

Cars kept passing. Giant wet leaves spilt onto the ill-lit street. Soon enough another black would pass by to see if the bike’s detritus could be revived, if there were parts to be taken. He would swipe up the leather seat in the middle of the road and hurry from the body. No police. Trovato negro, trovato colpevole. Santo felt the beginnings of a cold dread from his legs. In the hospital, would they dress him in good clothing instead of this putrid work gear? His wife would feel so assailed, wheeled in with these rags upon him. They would never understand the concocted verbs that would fly from her.

He tried to reach something, to haul himself up and become visible. He hooked his hand onto the plastic bumper but it careered off. He concentrated harder, coaxing his fingers into a dirty gap where there were tubes and frets. He tugged himself, but lolled down, his head snapping as though it were filled with barbs.

Ama would be so vexed. She would be convinced they were in Peter’s crammed apartment on the divans, laughing and grooving to videos on his enormous TV, those two Nigerian hairdressers from downstairs sipping from their drinks. Ama would be keening over in prayer now, the stew and banku cooled. Their place was but a block away over the train tracks.

Last night Santo had heard her groans and the high horrible lather of the tongues as she pummelled fists on the floor. He had covered his head again. At the clinic they had explained that the baby was growing, but a tiny arm was trapped in a membrane grown across her womb. The doctor had shown up the screen but Ama’s face turned away. Even Santo could only see the child’s heavy head and clustered, coiled limbs. Then when Ama had tried to throw herself on the floor the nurses rushed at her.

They had left that place to catch the bus.

Heal me OH LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.

Santo discovered he could no longer move. And that each breath had become a slow mount, a voyage or issuing. He heard bells. Now even the sound reaching his single lifted ear was a thing he had to shepherd and unravel into tones.

What he could not think of was Ama who would be left here.

A light switched on in one of the shops, just beyond the undercarriage of the first car. He felt a shower of splinters and at first thought the light had moved above him and was pooling there. But it was an agitation behind his eyelids which fluttered green, fluttered violet. It was a florists’ shop. There were plants and flowers backlit against the window and a person moving about towards whom Santo again tried to lift a hand. He saw his fingers in the air, felt gravel sewn into the palm. He watched the digits striving in the rain, unaware of his capitulation. Throngs of pain amassed in his abdomen.

He had proven to many that he was not wretched.

Santo saw his telephone flashing on the wet road. He had not even thought to use it but now saw that it would serve him no purpose. Santo whispered towards the voices gathered inside. Told them to hush. For if it was Ama reminding him that his firstborn’s arm might fall uselessly by his side, he would slide away in a dangling curve from this suspension. Or if it were Peter, telling of the wet deep pussy of the hairdresser girl, he knew he would feel a tremendous toll or burning wires through him.

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.

He smelt his long-dead mother on him. She used to reserve fat mangoes for him, brought him back a puppy they were going to slaughter on the road.

He saw hands snatch up the leather bicycle seat over the double lines. And remove the flashing phone. Fratello mio.

Of this flight, he knew nothing.

Santo could see his son’s face moving within his wife’s womb. He saw the child’s arm caught in a glutinous weft. He could sense the furious circuits of the foetus, see the scant coverage of skin; the eyes embedded in the cranium, the features in a soft oil.

There were hills where he had been a small boy. Long ago, there had been a forest, since chopped down by the timber cutters. The old folk spoke of the spirits of the slaves dissolved into the land, from long before they were pikin. They remembered how these people had been beaten down from the north, how they had cried in their chains and these chains had made sores on their skin and some women had gone over to anoint them.

He had thought he would never return to that blustery place.