My neighbors are poor, very poor. Their mother-in-law was not well. She had a sickness that made her legs ache. To help relieve the ache, her daughter-in-law made a special Vaseline-based salve. She then put socks on her mother-in-law’s legs to help the mixture penetrate. I decided to go into town and buy some socks and Vaseline for my neighbor so she could make the salve.
I didn’t have to wait long for the bus, about twenty minutes. As it came slowly into view, I noticed there were many people hanging from the doors. When it stopped in front of me, the driver motioned for the passengers to get on. This created a ruckus from inside. I could hear the passengers complaining. “Are you trying to sit people on our shoulders? There’s no place to even stand on our own feet,” they shouted.
I decided not to get on that bus. It was 10:30 a.m. before another bus arrived. Because of bad traffic, it was nearly 11:30 a.m. before I reached the city. I made my purchases of socks and Vaseline. As I rode home on the bus, I thought about how my neighbor would mix the Vaseline with dry ginger. For some reason, this would help relieve the ache in her mother-in-law’s legs.
The traffic was not as slow on my return trip. I was anxious to bring the socks and Vaseline to my neighbor. But as I approached my house, I saw many people standing next to my neighbor’s door. I asked them what had happened. The men told me the mother-in-law had died. I entered the room where her daughter-in-law was crying. There were other women in the house. They told me that my neighbors had been without fuel for a week. There was nothing to heat the house with. The poor old woman couldn’t bear the cold weather. That, along with her poor diet and poor health, had caused her death.
I very much regretted that I didn’t see her a week ago. Maybe if I had gone there a week ago she would be alive?
I remembered her telling me her life was filled with tears. Sometimes when I went to her house, she would show me one leg that hurt the most. She tried to bind her leg tightly with a narrow piece of cotton. Her hands shook as she pressed her knee. She thought her leg was broken, but in fact she was weak from a lack of calcium.
All the women who were sitting in her house said, “If her son had a job and enough money, she would not have died. He would have been able to provide her medicine, good food and make her room warm.”
I stayed with my neighbors until it was time to bury her. Many people came to pay their respects. There was such sadness on their faces. But no one had the ability to help her. Their families had even less than my neighbors.