Ilnah lay back on the cot, the blood-spattered handkerchief in her limp hands. Every few minutes her bony body was wracked by shattering coughs that sounded like her lungs were coming apart.
Sister Ignatia stood in the doorway of the hospital hut, running the Rosary through her fingers. After Henintsoa’s death the previous afternoon, Ilnah was the last survivor of her village. It was likely she would not last the day.
Jenny stood behind her holding an enameled basin and clean white towel. “You want I wash her now, Sister?”
“Not now, child. We must let her rest.”
“She the last living one from Antsoa, Sister?”
“Yes, Jenny. Satan’s tuberculosis has done its evil work.”
Jenny shook her head at this ignorant nun in her immaculate white habit.
Everyone knew an aye-aye had been seen in Antsoa the very night the first man died. Everyone knew what that meant.
While many people imagine Madagascar as a wildlife mecca, it is one of the poorest countries in the world, with at least 80 percent of the population living in extreme poverty and half of all children under five years old suffering from chronic malnutrition. The latest estimates of the WHO place the incidence rate of TB at a very high 235 cases for every 100,000 people. However, accurate figures are impossible to come by due a lack of data, as well as inflicted people delaying treatment for a multitude of reasons.
The aye-aye is an endangered species of nocturnal lemur found only on the island of Madagascar off the coast of eastern Africa. Through a combination of bizarre physical features and a naturally secretive lifestyle, aye-ayes have become fady to the people of Madagascar which roughly translates as “taboo.” In some regions of Madagascar, the mere sight of an aye-aye is enough to fill locals with horror and dread, oftentimes leading to the needless slaughter of these peculiar creatures.
According to local renditions of the fady, people are met with ill-fortune if an aye-aye points its long spindly finger at them.