The front flap of the tent was tightly closed. Mrs De Wet opened it and gestured to them to enter. Marta’s first impression was of neatness despite the dim lighting and stuffiness inside the tent. A smell of sickness and impending death hung in the oppressive air.
A women in her thirties knelt on the floor next to a makeshift mattress. Her small son lay on the mattress, weak and frail. His face was flushed with fever and he had a hacking cough.
“I’m trying to keep him warm,” the mother said, by way of explanation for keeping the flap closed. “He is shivering with cold.”
“What is wrong with him?” asked Marta. She already knew but she needed to be sure. Her whole being shrank away from what she already feared.
“He has influenza. There are a couple of hundred cases of illness in the camp right now, a mixture of influenza, bronchitis and enteric catarrh. There had been some dust storms lately which the camp doctor thinks is causing more respiratory illnesses.”
Marta looked at Sannie, aghast. Their two families and their house servants had always lived a rural life and had little immunity to such illnesses. It was bad enough to deal with the multitude of biting insects and vermin but how could they deal with this?
A few moments later, Mrs Smit entered the tent with her children. She laid the dead body of her baby down on a blanket. The child had drawn its last breath while she was speaking to the Camp Commandant. He had given her directions to the children’s graveyard. She dropped into a seated position on the hard ground and sat there, rocking herself to and fro, and keening softly. Her worn and seemingly bloodless body was that of an old woman and her large eyes in her white face were wild and haunted. The death of her infant on top of the recent losses of her oldest son and toddler seemed to have broken something deep within her mind. It was frightening to watch.
Needing to escape the cloying confines of the tent and the overwhelming anguish of the mother of the dead baby and the mother of the seriously ill boy, Marta went for a walk around the camp, stopping to speak to the other women.
This piece has been posted for Sue Vincent’s weekly write photo prompt. I am desperately trying to finish my novella, A ghost and his gold, about the Second Anglo Boer War. Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I find it hard to tear myself away from my most recent writing undertaking. That is why I often weave prompts into my latest story idea as I have done here.
You can join in here: https://scvincent.com/2019/08/08/thursday-photo-prompt-within-writephoto/