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An Afternoon with a Swazi Boy

Mostly, because I don’t know
what else to do, I take the hand
of this little boy, different than me
in so many unimportant ways.
His feet are calloused
from the hard red rocks;
my hands are cracked, from overuse
of Purell hand sanitizer.
He sees his world clearly
and knows all about it; I am
so young and inexperienced.
His mother and father are dead.

The only thing darker than his skin
is his prognosis, I think bitterly.
Earlier today I spilled his blood,
just enough
to cover the test strip, enough
to show me the two red lines
I was praying wouldn’t
materialize. But they did.
I grip harder than I should
and think about the pain
he feels. How could he not?

But he does not speak of pain;
he is merely intent on kicking
the wadded up paper covered
in packaging tape — a sad excuse
for a soccer ball, to me,
but to him and the others
a source of daily joy.
It bounces erratically,
but the boys have steady feet
to match their steady laughter.
He looks at me. His black lips part
to reveal teeth that are whiter than me,
and his eyes say, friend! I give
a final squeeze and he goes off to play.

The little paper test had told me
he was positive, but I needed
an afternoon with him to know
just how much more positive
than me he was.

Brent Schnipke Brent Schnipke (18 Posts)

Medical Student Editor, Writer-in-Training and Columnist Emeritus

Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University

Brent Schnipke is a third year medical student at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, OH. He is a 2014 graduate of Mount Vernon Nazarene University with a degree in Biology. His professional interests include writing, medical humanities, and higher education. When he's not studying, he can be found reading at a local coffee shop, training for his next race, or planning an adventure with his wife. Brent is also active on social media and can be reached on Twitter and Instagram @brentschnipke.

Prints, Pages, and Pagers

Prints, Pages, and Pagers aims to look closely at the lives of medical students and doctors, real or fiction, whose lives and experiences are told in novels, short stories, poetry, or any kind of writing. These book reviews are an opportunity for medical students to learn from the many fascinating stories produced by the field of medicine, and maybe to read something other than a textbook.