THE SECOND time I stared death in the face, albeit from a distance, was when my wife died. The first had been my father, and I hadn't known him much.
For the past two weeks I'd been coming to St. Tonia Memorial hospital. And each day, for those two measly weeks, I'd always thought, hopefully, maybe this is the day, the day she'll pull out of this.
The day we can all go home. I had a deep feeling though, a nagging skepticism that seemed to tell me: maybe this is the day, you know, the day she finally goes; the day you finally lose her. I think, somehow, I believed that one.
I looked around the hospital ward and found a folding chair. I picked it up and placed it close to her bed.
The ward felt quiet to me. The air was thick with the smell of medicines and disinfectants, the fan on the ceiling whirled slowly and soft music spilled out of a radio nearby.
On a normal day I would have felt repulsed by the hospital and everything about it (I'd always had a certain dread for hospitals), and looking around now, I could still feel that dread. But this was anything but a normal day. For one, I'd spent the last eight hours in this hospital - a personal record I'd been breaking since that day two weeks ago. I remembered that day clearly. Who would forget it?
It had been a Thursday. I had to get off work early.
"My wife is not too strong," I'd told my Boss. He had nodded and told me to take the rest of the day off. I was not one to lie with my wife's name. I loved her too much, and he knew.
"I Hope it's nothing serious?" He asked me, a look of genuine concern on his face. I smiled, and said "It's nothing serious."
Boy, did I turn out to be a poor prophet.
During my drive home, I kept saying it's nothing serious. Maybe because that was what I chose to believe. My home was situated in a nice, quiet (maybe too quiet) neighborhood. A nice middle-to-high income earners estate. It was a lemon coloured three bedroom bungalow, with its own gate and a garage.
As I drove into the compound, a certain silence greeted me. Now, I wasn't one for premonitions and such, so I shrugged it off. Usually the sound of cartoons could be heard once in the compound. Maybe Amy was asleep, or my wife is probably making her do her homework. Yes, that has to be it.
Again, I proved poor at this guessing stuff.
I parked the car in the garage and walked up the steps to the front door. I wanted to knock but the door pushed open on the first contact with my hand.
"Hello? I'm home." I walked into the luxuriously furnished living room. The T.V was on, cartoons, but it was muted. Odd.
I walked towards the hallway and I heard my daughter talking in her sweet childish voice. Her voice was coming from the kitchen, she was telling a story; 'and then the lion said to the mouse...' I smiled, and walked towards the kitchen.
What I saw made my heart stop...
"Mr. William!" I shook from my reverie, and turned; a nurse was smiling at me. For a moment I wondered where I was, and then I saw her on the bed, tubes running all over her body. It was still real.
"Yes, please." I said, trying to focus on the nurse.
"The Doctor would like to see you." The nurse said.
I nodded, and followed her. The Doctor's office was a floor up. I knocked and pushed my way in. The Doctor looked up from what he was doing, and smiled.
"Mr. William, please sit." He motioned me to a chair. I sat.
The Doctor was a man in his fifties. Plump and balding. He had a pleasant look on his face, enough to reassure even an AIDS patient of recovery.
He removed the glasses perched on the bridge of his nose and placed it on the desk. His hands were crossed.
"Mr. William, are you alright?" He asked, like we've been friends forever.
I shrugged, "Yes." I wasn't.
Nothing was alright. Nothing has been alright since then. I remembered again...
I stood still, transfixed, hoping that I was dreaming. Amy, my little girl, was curled up beside her unconscious mother. I looked around, there were broken pieces of ceramic plates everywhere. I gasped, and she looked at me.
"Daddy!" She said, and ran up to me. She had tears in her eyes, but she obviously didn't know how serious this all was.
"Mommy was washing some plates when she fell down. I told her to wake up, but she wouldn't. So, I'm telling her a story, like you do, so that she will sleep well."
"But-how long hav..."
I heard my name again: "Mr. William!" I shook back to reality.
The Doctor looked at me for a long while, and I think he understood. He'd seen them all; the soft-grievers, the intense ones, and the family members relieved to see a pain disappear.
This one, though, was in a category of his own.
"I'm sorry I don't have good news, Mr. William."
I nodded. Somehow I'd expected that.
He proceeded to go into a speech filled with medical jargons. I wasn't listening.
"The tumor has eaten its way into her heart, and-Mr. William?"
"I'm sorry Doctor. Can you just give it to me straight?"
"Alright. I'm afraid she doesn't have much longer."
"A few days. One week at most."
"Thank you, Doc."
I looked at her as she lay on the bed, on her sick-bed. I shivered at the thought of the word 'sick-bed'. She was dying, and in the past two weeks I'd know it. I just didn't choose to accept it. Had I known sooner, maybe the tumor wouldn't have gone so far.
She looked pale and the color of her skin flushed, a mere shadow of her old self. I'd give anything to have this shadow with me for all eternity - a beggar's wish.
Her breathing was laboured and her chest rose unevenly with each breath she took. It has been 2 weeks now and her condition was deteriorating rapidly, faster than I could accept.
I had been married to Angela now for 8 years and this looked to be the last year, beyond all doubt. I've heard of something called faith, my Mother was a strong Christian, but I didn't really believe so much in it. Angela was the Christian between us, she hadn't been able to convert me before our marriage but for the few occasions when she managed to drag me to church once or twice in a month. I didn't pray, I couldn't pray, I just didn't know how.
Miracles weren't real to me, they weren't logical, such irrelevant rituals and ideologies, I'd always thought. I guess I was too much of a rationalist.
But, sitting here, looking at her now, I felt a strong urge to pray and I sincerely hoped for a miracle, I ran my fingers across her hair; dry and stringy. Tears streamed down my eyes, so beautiful, I thought, the only love I'd ever had.
"...Till death do you part?"
Curse whoever added that exit clause to the 'blessed' union called marriage.
She opened her eyes painfully, and with so much strained energy she said over a wary voice.
"Please don't cry, my love, have faith .It'll be alright"
Her voice was shaky. She looked like a ghost, with the tubes stuck into her veins, dripping whatever it was they put in those bags.
I looked at her, seeing the tears in her eyes and feeling the pain in her voice, she didn't believe what she said. It wasn't going to be alright, but I couldn't make her feel any worse, so I said:
"Alright, I believe, surely your God can help us, he does those sort of things right?"
She smiled, a faint smile. "It's bad isn't it?"
I shook my head.
She coughed, "How bad is it?"
"Forget about that now, rest. It'll be alright soon." What I really meant by that was I hope she will be peaceful in heaven.
She cut me short, and gripped my hands with all her strength; a feeble grip. She motioned me closer, I leaned in and she whispered:
"Take care of Amy for us. The little angel reads me stories. I'll miss her."
I knew this was almost it, I stood up slowly and went to the door and called Mother. She came along, carrying our five year old daughter.
"Mommy, when are you coming home?" She asked innocently. I stood behind, I know I couldn't bear this, it felt like an episode from those touchy soaps I hated to watch.
Angela smiled with effort, trying to mask the pain from her daughter,
"Soon baby" she said, and paused to inhale, then she continued "...can you make mommy a pinky promise?” She asked as she stretched out her quivering pinky to my little girl.
"Yes mommy" Amy said smiling, showing off her newly fallen teeth. I wondered if she had any idea what was going on, probably not.
And I thought of how I would explain to her that mommy was never coming back home.
Angela looked at me with sadness in her eyes and then at her daughter, she took in a deep breath and said:
"Promise me that you will be a good girl, a strong girl and that you will take care of Daddy for me."
Amy looked at me with innocent eyes, a strange request, she obviously didn't understand what was going on and why mommy had asked to make such a promise, but she couldn't resist a good bargain, so she locked her pinky with that of her mom and said “I promise.”
Amy embraced her and said, "I can't wait for you to come home, mommy."
"Me too." She replied.
Me too, I thought.
I looked at Mother, she had tears on her eyes.
She said a short prayer, and ended with "God bless you my child." And she ushered Amy out.
She coughed violently, and smiled at me. That was it, the final goodbye, she leaned back into the bed, and drifted off to sleep.
I stayed by her bed till eleven p.m.
Mother came into the ward and told me that I needed to get some rest. I told her that I was okay. I planned to rest there. She didn’t argue, instead she asked me to drive them home. When we got home, I stayed in the car while they went in. I promised to call if anything came up.
I hoped nothing would.
As I walked back to her ward, my heart kept beating hard for some reason.
When I pushed open the door to the ward, I saw the Doctor and a nurse beside her bed.
The Doctor was just wrapping his stethoscope and then he nodded to the nurse.
I stood by the door, watching as the nurse carefully threw the green cover over her face.
At first I didn't understand. Then it dawned on me; she was dead. I thought of the Doctor's words:
"...a few days. One week at most."
What happened to the one week at most, why now?
Whatever happened in the hours that followed that event became bleak to me.
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