A long way away from Syafika was another skinny man. His name was Mamadou and today was his 40th birthday. He didn’t have a cake and it definitely wasn’t going to rain in his village. It hadn’t rained properly for months and everything was dry and dusty – more than it had ever been before. Mamadou’s house was near the top of a hill, amongst forest. The trees and plants were already looking wilted, and it was still hours before the hottest part of the day. The weather had been making Mamadou depressed. Every day that it didn’t rain he felt worse. It was another sign that his life was still going downhill.
Nobody respected Mamadou. All the young people in the village thought he was crazy and all the old people were disappointed that such a lovely young man had thrown his life away. Anyone who really knew what had happened to Mamadou felt sorry for him, but also thought he had been foolish and were glad that he’d fallen so badly after trying to make too much of himself – he should have been happy to keep the life he’d grown up with. Everyone in the village agreed that it was good that Mamadou’s mother had died before his downfall, because it would have broken her heart and killed her anyway – and death due to the pain of disappointment and embarrassment had to be worse than death from fever.
At another time, years ago, Mamadou had felt like he was King of the World, but things would never be like that again. Even if something good did happen to him, Mamadou would never let himself feel as happy again because he knew what it felt like to lose it all.
Mamadou sat on an old wooden chair in the sunshine that was coming in through his window. He was drinking tea and trying to come to terms with being 40 and having nothing to show for it, except his paintings, but not many people cared about those and none of the people who did care lived in his village. He looked at the stack of his paintings against the wall near his bed. He looked at his paints and brushes and the sketches he’d done the day before of droopy leaves in the sun. Then he looked back at his paintings and his mood began to improve. He’d sold a painting not long ago – to a tourist who’d come to the village to sticky beak. She’d come a long way and had only a small suitcase, but had bought a painting anyway. She was only young, but she’d been a good listener and when Mamadou had told her about his downfall she’d paid attention and been sympathetic. He could see that she didn’t think he was worthless like everyone else did. Mamadou looked out the window at the blue sky. There were some clouds on the horizon and they were moving closer, but they weren’t rain clouds. Although Mamadou couldn’t imagine that it would ever rain again things did look a bit brighter than they had before. The trees looked a bit fresher. The tea tasted more like tea and less like rusty water. He had to remind himself that he’d had all he wanted and then lost it, just to check if he was really feeling hopeful again or had just forgotten about the awful things. The memories came back and cut Mamadou’s stomach, but he still felt optimistic – although he didn’t know why he should.