54. Jackson’s Death

By Peter Fraenkel

Jackson was our domestic servant – an Angoni by tribe. Nyanja was his mother tongue.  He endeavoured to teach me this language – one of the most widely spoken in our part of Africa. My grammatical mistakes amused him greatly and often resulted in peals of laughter.

He laughed a lot and sang a lot – usually church hymns.  He could read, though slowly and with a bit of an effort. In his view only one book was worth reading – the Bible. Most of his spare time was spent with his Nyanja translation – often debating the meaning of bible parables with his large circle of friends, all of them members of the Watchtower Bible Society.

His peals of laughter almost always ended in a bout of coughing.

The coughing got worse. I tried to persuade him to go and see a doctor. He was reluctant but after one bad bout, when he spat blood, I did manage to drive him up to the hospital and left him in the waiting room. I thought they might keep him for treatment but he came back an hour or two later – angry.

“They shoved this cold thing at me. Brrr…” He described what must have been a stethoscope… a cold stethoscope. “It did me no good at all.”

I tried to explain that a stethoscope was not a cure. It was only to find out what was wrong with him so that the doctor would know what to do to make him better.

He, however, persisted: “It did me no good at all. And it was horrid. Cold.  And that white doctor – there was no kindness in him. His eyes were cold, too. He did me no good at all.”

I was getting nowhere. I spoke to his “brother” Kumbilwa – one of his many male relatives, whom he described as brothers. Kumbilwa was no more successful than I had been. However, after a few days he told me triumphantly that Jackson had now persuaded all his circle of Watchtower adherents to pray for him.  There had already been one prayer meeting. It had been well attended. Another was planned. Now Jackson was certain to get better.

Kumbilwa seemed convinced.   I was not.  Jackson was coughing up more blood. I was nervous: Might he not be infecting us all?

I was about to go on what was called “local leave” – three weeks – to distinguish it from the generous long overseas leave – six months – we could take once every three years. One morning Jackson announced that he was going back to his home village. They had good healers there. When I came back from my leave I would find his coughing had stopped.

I wished him well.

When I came back three weeks later I found that “brother” Kumbilwa was away too. He had gone to their home village. Was he ill too? No, I was told, he had been fit.

When he did come back I asked “How is your brother Jackson?”

“Dead. I was away attending his funeral. I led the singing at his grave side”

“So all you people praying for him – that didn’t help?”

He shook his head sadly: “No. We did not pray hard enough.”