Apart from his extraordinary intellectual ability, Alhassane had amazing calligraphy. Contemplating his writings was a real pleasure for the eyes. A brilliant student, he proved himself very early at school. He easily stood out through his grades and oral ability. Awkward and accident prone, as was usual for a child his age who liked running while playing, he had scars on several places of his body and mainly on one of his legs. Left or right? I don’t remember exactly. My father had bandaged it several times, but the wounds resisted healing. I even remember having to accompany him many times to the infirmaries, once to Dixinn, a few kilometers away, and several times to Doctor Sakho in Yembeya. Despite our efforts his wounds only healed superficially and remained festering under his skin.
Weeks earlier, before the BEPC national exam (the Brevet d’Études du Premier Cycle, which we also call “the Brevet”), my big brother, Ibrahim, and I were motivating Alhassane to prepare effectively, despite the pain caused by his wounds. Just like us, and despite the grip of pain, he developed an ardent desire to pass the BEPC exam, which is required to be admitted to high school. I was witness to his commitment to revisions. Despite the imbalance of his lower limbs, he took the revisions to heart. He did his best not to miss any session. How great was his sacrifice!
Around five or six years earlier, when he was still a schoolboy, during the first school year after we moved, an altercation broke out between us. To be honest, I don’t even remember the subject of this ridiculous argument. It happened near the family car that served as our means of transport. In anger, I pushed him somewhat violently and he almost took a hard fall, but by the grace of the Lord, he put his hands on the ground first. How detestable was my action!
Nabilaye, my big brother’s friend at whose house we used to park our car, reprimanded me for this action. He expressed himself in these words: ”If you, who are supposed to protect him, act like this with him, who will he have to count on in the event of a problem?” Since that day, I made the firm decision to never lay hands on him again. I thank the Lord for having taught me from that day to have more mercy towards Alhassane. The words of someone outside the family, my brother’s friend, Nabilaye, had transformed the brutal individual that I was. If I was later able to show so much dedication during Alhassane’s illness, it was partly due to this radical positive change that had taken place in me after our fight. I cannot thank Heaven enough for having by its wisdom created this brutal and unfortunate incident which allowed me to open my eyes.
On a very sunny day during his examination year, Alhassane, now a teenager, came home from school exhausted. He had excruciating pain in his legs, and his breathing was abnormal. He breathed like a hunted person. Wasn’t death stalking him anyway?
I awkwardly reprimanded him despite his condition. He had returned from school out of breath, accompanied by his friends who voluntarily escorted him. I asked him the reason for this extreme fatigue, which I noticed with regret. His friends informed me that they had made the trip by foot. Instantly, I turned against him. When his friends left, I asked why he hadn’t taken a taxi, as agreed in the morning? With an air of regret, he explained to me that he did not want to embark without his friends, and he apologized.
When I remember that moment today, I can’t stop crying inside myself. Even if I had reprimanded him for his own good, with the concern of seeing him heal quickly, I nevertheless believe that I should have acted differently. It was only later that I understood that he had given me one of the finest examples of friendship.
My father, who was worried about this situation, came into the room to inquire about Alhassane’s condition. “Kohondoun wadi Alhassane?” he asked, wondering what was wrong. He advised Alhassane to get up for a bite to eat, but the boy was so exhausted that he even had trouble answering our father. He only wanted one thing: to rest. My father’s eyes filled with worry and sadness. Indeed, Alhassane was not one of the whiners. Minutes later I walked into the room to find him lying on his stomach and breathing hard. I could feel that he was running out of breath.
Like my father, I advised him to eat before sleeping, but he made me understand that he needed to sleep more. For him, food could wait. Despite our efforts, his condition only deteriorated. The pharmaceuticals no longer had any effect, on the contrary they increased his pain, especially the ointment that I applied to him. I even remember that he had asked me not to put any more on him. Was it the effect of tetanus? I didn’t know how to tell. A few weeks before the Brevet exam he had started to feel more pain in his legs and he had trouble standing up. We had to help him every time.
Our father had taken it upon himself to accompany Alhassane more than once to the Donka national hospital for dressings. A man who often trivialized illnesses, he had suddenly become worried. His concern amplified mine. Was I the only one who hadn’t seen how serious this was?
This situation of Alhassane no longer left our father indifferent. I also believe that he had never been indifferent to the situation of anyone, he was simply afraid of hospitals, terrified of them. My father said to me one day with a somewhat mixed tone of anger and sadness: “You must not leave me alone to deal with your brother’s situation. One of you needs to come with me.” I had the opportunity to see, despite his terrible fear of hospitals, this desire to continue to support my brother for his treatment.
Together we finally decided to take Alhassane to the Donka national Hospital. With my eldest brother Alpha and my father, I was among those who took an active part in this path. Alpha also helped care for Alhassane, despite having a job. He had a special affection for this twin who had once lost his brother Alhousseiny. My brother Alpha considered Alhassane to be his confidant. All of us in the family took an active part in his treatment without ever losing hope of seeing him recover.
For my part, I was also confident that hope was allowed. I hoped that, like me, he was going to make it through the baccalaureate period. But it was not to be.
The end came in stages. When his illness grew worse we took him to Les Flamboyants Health Center, where, during a careless moment, he quietly exclaimed, “Turn on the light!” Hearing him say that, I was almost suffocated by a fear I could hardly control. Indeed, no one had turned off the light—Alhassane had lost his sight. When I approached him, I was shocked to see that his eyes were empty, like a blind man’s. Ibrahim and I stared Alhassane in the eyes while asking him questions to relieve our anxiety. The answers he gave us helped to confirm what I feared: Death was coming. I felt death’s presence. If it had smelled, I probably would have smelled it. A panic and coldness that only God could describe took hold of me.
When my brother Ibrahim went to bed, I was alone with Alhassane, praying with all my might. Having realized the obvious, I wanted to wake up the other members of the family to say goodbye to him. Despite my desire to help him live, I was resolved to the inevitable: he was not going to get out. He would soon leave us forever for a new world, unknown to all. Providence would take him to a fearsome place no one new, but everyone had heard about.
Although morally and physically overwhelmed by these events, I continued to reassure and comfort him. I hadn’t slept for several hours. I was beyond exhausted and could barely keep my eyes open. In the quiet of early morning, with a mixed feeling of anger and sadness, coupled with a faint glimmer of hope, I cried out loud, “We must take him to the hospital immediately! His condition is only getting worse.” My father agreed and quickly fetched the car. Together with my brother Alpha we drove Alhassane to the hospital as quickly as possible in order to save him, but we were too late. Watching Alhassane as my father drove, I experienced, for the first time in my life, sitting next to a person who has passed away. Alhassane had gone to the other side. By good fortune, but without having wanted to, we had attended to the step-by-step preparations for death described in the Koran, the Surah Al-Qiyamah.
I returned home devastated. Two things have helped me accept his death: knowing that God knew exactly why He had called him back to Him; and the fact that the whole family had given the best of themselves to help him, without complaining about all that we endured in this commitment. His friends showed up too. Bras Cassé, who was one of the friends with whom Alhassane had preferred to walk home from exam center rather than taking a taxi, was present for the family after the tragedy to testify the sincerity of their friendship.
17 February, 2023