When Kofi woke that morning his head was heavy. A sense of grief had become him. The reason for such escaped him. Drifting through the recesses of his mind like wisps of smoke, impossible to catch or examine. He rolled over, dragging the under sheet with him as his warm body resisted parting with the damp fabric. Peeking through the window of his small mud hut the sun had already begun its assent. Burnt orange rays pierced the horizon, promising a day just as suffocating as the last.
Kofi teased his legs from under the blanket and swung them to the floor. Reaching down he picked up and pulled on a scrunched up pair of yellow shorts. Rising from the bed he cursed silently as his foot knocked over a cup, sending little streams of water running down the rush covering. A soft groan cut through the morning. Berating himself Kofi turned round. Thankfully his wife was still asleep, her breath escaping her in short, rasping pants. Her face was thick with sweat, slick curls of hair glued to her cheeks. Kofi stooped and brushed her forehead with his hand, a thick film of perspiration met his palm. He stood up to leave the room, glancing back once more at her small frame, covered in so many blankets she looked like she was drowning. But really she was burning.
The animals had been the first to go. Stray dogs shivering in the scorching sun. Small birds swooping low over evening camp fires, scorching their wings and dropping like rain into the flames. Yes it was always the cold that came first. The incessant need for warmth despite an ever increasing fever. Then the paralysis struck. A stiffening of the limbs initially, dogs lying in the full power of the midday sun, their legs stuck rigidly in front of them. Then the rest of the body, unable to turn the neck or bend the back. Death came after that, but not swiftly enough. Kofi remembered his little tabby, it had always been an elegant creature. Nimble and quick, it had prowled the night with the majestical dignity of a tiger. Then it became sick. Kofi had found her, little Pi, one morning while chopping logs in the back yard. She looked almost comical, her stiff legs slowly revolving from side to side as she wriggled her back in a state of panic. His wife had adored Pi, Kofi had no real affliction either way, but he had taken pity on the miserable creature that morning and snapped its neck. He buried her where he found her, a shallow grave in the garden. His wife had taken to sitting there for a while after she woke, drinking her tea and humming as the day came to life. Now she couldn’t leave their bed. Strange then that so few humans had been affected. Few but some nonetheless. Four deaths in the village thus far and three more were sick. Kofi shook his head. Not his wife. It was just a fever.
As he made his way to work that morning Kofi stopped to ponder the giant Baobab tree that grew in the centre of the village. It was dead now too of course. The sickness infected both fauna and flora. Its once magnificent branches drooped, its bark transformed to white ash as it slowly decayed. Soon it would sink back into the yellow sand, swallowed without a trace by the ever expanding desert. Kofi sighed and continued on his way.
Arriving at a little past six, Kofi promptly stripped and picked up a new orange suit. After stripping it from its plastic wrapper and double checking for any faults he pulled it on. Its crude fit already hampering his mobility, he began waddling towards the warehouse. There would be no work in the fields this morning. Today preparation began. Each collected pod was to be skinned and washed. No small feat considering the size of the things and that the last harvest had been their biggest yet. Manager Akuri had praised the workers, their combined efforts were making the project a success, thousands of lives could be saved as famine became a thing of the past. But the speech had washed over Kofi. His mind was back home with his worsening wife, back in the kitchen where she used to laugh and sing. Back in the garden where finches made their nests in tall trees spying on beetles which scurried around in the undergrowth, where now there was only sand and the buried skeleton of a cat. Of late, Kofi found memories to be his greatest companions. Everything else had changed too dramatically, too quickly.
Absconding from his daydream, Kofi found himself already at his work bench, the conveyer belt in front of him shuffling slowly forward, weighed down by the pods which were dispersed along the black strip. As one neared him he put out both his hands, ready, waiting. As soon as it was in reach he laid his arms on top of it, cupping it from above. It rolled lethargically onto his work bench with a heavy thud. Kofi began work, stripping the pale pink petals from the bulbous load. The petals were numerous and finely woven, sticking to each other like stubborn coats of paint. The task would have proved much easier using ones nails and fingers, but Kofi’s gloved hands reduced his dexterity to that of a rhinoceros. Every so often Kofi would come across a layer with an accessible edge, one that could be teased away from its companions until the whole thing could be pulled off with a satisfying tug. Moments like these were small victories on those stifling days at the warehouse.
An hour in and Kofi could tell he was nearing the inner layer of the crop. The once hard shell was soft and squidgy to touch, like cellophane wrapped butter left in a warm room. Piles of wafer thin pink strips lay strewn around him, already piling up around his legs, on this day the warehouse became a candyfloss factory. Kofi eased a strip of the final layer away. And there it was, pulsating, alive beneath its cocoon. A brown and reddish strip was visible through the covering. Straining, as if trying to burst out of its skin. Kofi marvelled at how the tissue took so long to die after being plucked. Without its stalk, its roots, its petals, the organism would continue to pulsate for a few days. A mass of living flesh with no differentiation. No organs, no bone, just live meat stripped from its botanical disguise.
After he had finished peeling, Kofi walked to the centre of the room. He pulled a large metal hook out of its clasp and drew it back to his work bench. With one experienced swipe he pierced through the meat and released the hook. It dragged the meat off the bench and back behind him, trailing through pink strips of skin and dust which clung to the meat as if it were a magnet. Finally the meat was pulled upwards and there it remained, suspended three feet in the air, waiting. Kofi held out his arms ready to haul the next bud off the conveyer belt.