The white bag lay flat on the ground. It was noticeable only in its whiteness. The beginning of the dry season and the harmatton (the winds from the northern part of the continent) scatter dust in fine particles into piles, against skin. So the white, absent of the brown tint of everything else, stood out. But I could have easily missed it. Seen and not seen it as I do a thousand things every day. That unseeing allowing the same walks and drives to be new each time I experience them.

But Benin pointed it out.

Rather, she pointed to the space a man, a body, had occupied earlier in the day.

She’d walked by him, lying on the ground and slowed her pace, thinking he was sleeping but scrutinizing to make sure. She asked the man in front of her if he was sleeping and he answered, “dead since this morning.”  a nearby vendor concurred.

As Benin stood there, the UN police pulled up and began doing official looking things. Taking photos and writing down details. Benin walked on.

She was telling me all of this as we approached the bag. Her voice faltered a little in disbelief. “that can’t be him. That can’t be him in that bag. They wouldn’t have left him here.” as disbelief was pummeled by reality her tone changed, “why would they leave him here? Why?”

And I wanted to provide her with an answer…something more substantial than, “I don’t know.”

Only I suspected; and what I suspected was far worse.

“Because they don’t care.”

And that is unfair. I don’t know any UN police. Have never had a conversation or a passing word. And yet I wonder what else could bring someone to take photos, bag, and then leave a once living, breathing body on the side of the road beside the piles of trash to be burned later, amid stray dogs scavenging for food and the children searching out space to play.

It is probably less humanly-sinister. Probably some technicality in the protocol. “bodies may not be removed without verification from a family member or legal guardian” or something equally legal and banal. Something that makes perfect sense on paper but is ridiculous in its implementation. Ridiculous and cruel in its command to leave a man enveloped in white, on the side of the road, amid the living, against the heat.

It reminds me of a story someone told me early in my time here – about a woman pleading with an NGO worker during the crisis to let her in. “I will be raped and murdered. As a woman, please let me in.”

She was turned away and was raped and murdered. The NGO worker, when confronted with her fate broke down. Rules and regulations guard against malpractice, not against our humanity.

But she didn’t leave her outside the fence, beyond refuge out of cruelty. My guess, again, is it was dictated by some arbitrary rule – or even a perfectly reasonable one. Reasonable, like most things, is relative. Relative to chances of dying. Relatively reasonable until the rules come up against the very humanity they are meant to protect. Then, they sometimes force the most inhuman of acts for the most human of reasons.

I walked by a dead body on the side of a road this weekend, traffic and people and life going about their way as the night air – cool against my skin – ruffled the grass around a stark white bag.

I wonder if it still there…

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