Luanda. The fifth century of war. The South African army is trying to kill us all, but it is a fly that nearly does for me. A fish fly, “mosca do peixe”, so small you do not see it as it buries its even tinier eggs under your skin. Usually, like a tattoo artist, it chooses fleshy parts of the body to work on, bits that are generally covered up and left in peace, so I assume the irritating white spot on my left thumb is the bequest of a mosquito. Days pass before someone kindly puts me right. Everyone knows what to do. You sterilise a pin in a flame and use it to roll back the skin from around the white spot. Then you get a very good friend to squeeze all the eggs out. The pain is bad, but the consequences of not getting all the eggs out are worse.
This time, it is too late for such home remedies; surgery is called for, simple surgery. But where? People reckon the French Embassy doctor to be the best bet, and he proves willing. My colleague Dunhill returns a favour by accompanying me there and watches as I stare anywhere but at my hand, while my foot stamps on the floorboards like John Entwistle on stage. The only anaesthetic in town is reserved for major operations and the military. No complaints about that. You get a ration of painkillers for afterwards, but the time between the effect of one wearing off and your being able to take the next passes very slowly. I learn that pain does not make you heroic so much as self-absorbed.
I give a repeat performance when the stitches come out. Later, after the bandages have come off, I phone the doctor and tell him the thumb does not look good. “Well,” he says, “if it does not improve over the weekend, you may end up losing the use of that hand.”
Those words kick-start the healing process. I live with a numb thumb for years. It is still a bit slender, but the whole hand works, and I have a small scar to show as I sing for my supper.
You can read more of Bryan Murphy’s stories, poems and articles here: http://www.bryanmurphy.eu