I would wait until nighttime to try. I was too embarrassed, and scared to try in the daytime. What if one of our neighbours saw me? What if a stranger followed me? There were so many tired, wide staring eyes in our slum, and you never knew what was going through the men’s minds when they were looking at you. At times, I could feel their eyes burning into my back.
When bedtime came, I would lie next to my mother with my hand around her waist and wait for her to fall asleep. Even though it was pitch-black and I can’t hear well, I could tell when she was deeply asleep because her belly would relax in my hands. Then, I would wait for the clattering of our slum to calm, for the damp thumping of tired feet around our shed to stop and for the snoring to begin. My stomach would churn. I hated leaving my mother.
Stepping as quietly as I could out of our shack, I tiptoed my way towards the forest just to the West of the slums. The smell of urine and refuse in the path rose up from the ground, a warning from the earth to go no further. Some of our neighbours weren’t so careful about where they did their business. I tried to feel my way forward with my feet but I had to go very slowly. Not only was the soil covered in sewage but rubbish, in the form of broken glass and sharp scraps from mental cans, were hidden just below the surface and if my feet were cut the infection could kill me. I strained my eyes, prayed and made for the dark cloud of trees.
The forest was even darker and brought its own kind of fear. My disabled senses were further impaired. The few sounds I could hear made me jump and when I searched the darkness to find their source all I could see were shadows. There could be dangerous animals or people lying in wait and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t even scream because of my speech problems. Except for feeling the rough bark of the branches winding around me, I was totally at nature’s mercy. Helpless.
I had a very simple plan. Once I entered the forest I would go as far into the thick of woods as my fear would allow, find a thicket, squat quickly behind it and try and relieve myself. The fear though, the fear would make my bowels stiffen and clench. The more I tried to go to the toilet the harder it became leading to even more pain in my intestines. By the time I finished, I would be so anxious that I would run back through the forest, down the path and into the tent. I couldn’t never go back slowly and carefully, and I would always cut myself on the cold sharpness of the slums.