This is a story I wrote for a short story writing competition on Facebook. I came in second! Don’t ask me how, I’m still not sure myself. But here it is:
I developed a habit, one that drives my mother bonkers but one that keeps me sane. (Does anyone still use the word bonkers? Anyone besides the English? Or are they the British? I forget.) Whenever I catch a whiff of bad news, I withdraw into myself and fantasize that I am in far off land being a princess, scratch that, a butt-kicking, dragon slaying princess that fights off evil queens and is very proficient in general badassery. But never a damsel in distress, because who would want to be that hapless, helpless, squealing woman who faints at the sight of say, a rat, when you can be…well…a badass.
You know what we used to do when we were younger, stick your fingers in your ears and start humming really loudly so that your parent or whoever was in the unenviable position of handing you the bad news would just give up and not give you the said bad news at all. This is annoying as hell to the adults, and even more so for my mother. Probably why I ended up with more spankings than I can count.
So on this day, a cold dreary Monday when the doctor walked in he smelt, no reeked of news that was just going to break my poor mother’s heart. His disposition was not one of a person going to deliver unsavory news, in fact he looked almost pleasant, almost like he was going to open his pearly whites and say, “your teeth cavities are no more, brush your teeth and here’s a lollipop, there’s a good girl.” Instead of the standard we’ve-done-all-we-can crap that I knew he was going to spew. Not to brag but, I have a sixth sense for these things.
Anyhow, when I saw this harbinger of doom, I retreated into my secret, not-so secret fantasy world. I wish I could describe the awesomeness that is this world of mine to lay person. It was more colorful and bright and with a much better smell than the four grey walls that I saw on a daily basis (please note that the paint on these walls was meant to be a cheerful blue but be here for as long as a minute and you’ll go home swearing that the colour is grey). Everything in this world is luminous, light bounces off everything. Yes there are villains, like in every world but I, the warrior princess, can easily vanquish them.
“Maria Ajok, get your head out of the silly clouds and listen to what this kind man has to say,” My Mother said shaking me out of my reverie.
I looked her with eyes that said, “Oh come on, do I have to?”
But I knew that even if I wanted to retreat to my dragons my mother wouldn’t let me so, I decided to listen to the kind doctor as my mother insisted on calling the man. But then again I listened in bits as a particularly stubborn dragon was refusing to be brought to heel.
“I am so sorry Mama Maria….”
“…done all we can…”
“…all treatment options…nothing more….”
Of course it’s nothing we had not heard before and I was already resigned to, in fact I was accepting of the fact that I was going to die. But when you think about it, are we not all on journey to the grave? Some of us get to the grave faster than most but in the end, we all die. Let me be perhaps a little bit more doomsday preacher-like, “WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!!”
(Yes capital letters, exclamations and all) My mother on the other hand, oh my poor mother, she had not given up hope that some miracle drug was somehow going to stop the disease that ate at my body. Yet all the doctors we had seen before had only delivered bad news with the cheerfulness of a baboon – forgive me, I can’t seem to conjure up an image of the least cheerful thing- all except doctor kind man. My mother kept asking the man questions about blood count and CDCs and ABCs and QYZs – to be honest I don’t really care to know all the details of these abbreviation tests, I just know that they involve a lot of poking and prodding and needles and who likes needles? Doctor kind man answered all of her questions patiently and precisely, like a professional should, he was perhaps waiting for her to internalize the fact that she was going to lose me.
“What more can we do?” she asked him with expectant eyes
“We can make her comfortable, I can suggest some excellent palliative care facilities where she will be comfortable and happy,” doctor kind man said.
Happy, the man actually said happy, is he serious? Oh my God, he’s actually serious. Angom be calm, do not react, just nod and say, you will take his suggestion under advisement.
“Thank you doctor, I will take your crappy suggestion under advisement.”
Crap, that’s not what you are meant to say. Pull yourself together and be nice to the man. But please Lord, let this doctor leave right now before I punch him.
“….if there’s nothing more mama Maria….” the man was saying.
“Please, thank you for nothing, now please leave, I have to find for another way that you incompet -” I swallow the word. Hold your tongue Angom, you have to be strong for Maria, she must not see you crumble. And you have to remember your manners, what example are you setting for your sixteen year old.
“I’m sorry doctor Lule.”
“It’s okay, I understand, Mama Maria, if you need any help please don’t hesitate…” he said trailing away as he looks at Maria who at this point is not even caring to listen to what was being said. I really did not have the strength to speak to the man so I just nod and he finally, finally leaves. I turn away from Maria because I don’t want her to see my tears. I don’t want her to see my frustration. I have to be strong for this little girl, who brought me so much joy but so much pain as well. I hear a rustling of the wind so I try to busy myself with windows that seem like they are already closed. Another rustling, but I can’t see where it’s coming from. More rustling, then I turn to the bed. Where she lay. She beckons me closer and whispers in that hoarse terrible voice of hers,
“It is okay mama.” And then she smiles, the effort to speak having drained almost all of her energy, she falls back into her bed. Damn those tubes that were forced down her throat, now my baby girl’s beautiful voice is gone forever. And no this is not a bed, that’s a hospital scrap metal, no mattress that makes sense.
She’s drifting off to sleep. I can finally now break down. But God, why, of all little girls, why did it have to be her? Why does she have to die? Why isn’t there a cure yet for this disease? Why am I still fighting? Why did you give her to me for just this little while only to take her away from me? Why this pain Lord? Why am I alone in this? Why must you put us in this situation? And why are all these walls so grey? And why the hell are you laughing you skank, my baby’s dying. A voice, maybe its God speaking, maybe it’s myself, reaffirms that I need to fight for this precious life. I need to go back to the drawing board and see what I can do. I need to fight….I can win this, I can win this for my little girl.
You know those dreams where you are falling from a cliff and just before you hit the ground you wake up. I woke up with a start from one of these, which sucks because any sudden movements meant an incredible amount of pain. I whimpered trying to keep my voice down. My mother who is attuned to any sudden noises was immediately by my side (I swear the woman has the ears of a bat and the feet of a cheetah) I manage to croak an okay to satisfy or rather placate her, otherwise, she would wake the whole hospital.
“It is about time Maria, you slept a whole day, which is good, your body needs sleep. It’s Tuesday afternoon, see the sun streaming in, the birds chirping……” she spoke as she busied herself around the room.
And then she sat down next to my bed and busied herself with my beddings. She was up to something this devious beautiful strong woman.
“Maria, I have made arrangements that we be transferred to Aga Khan teaching hospital. An ambulance will be coming to pick us up tomorrow afternoon and I am told that we can be helped from there,” she said, not really looking at me.
“We must not lose hope, baby girl, we must not, and I will find a way. Mama will find a way” she said. And I truly believe that she believes whole heartedly that I will somehow be saved but I gave up on the notion a long time ago and now I have to summon up the energy to smile so she can be encouraged. That I am ready to fight, but really all I wanted to do was listen to music and slay dragons and kick-butt in my secret, not-so secret world. The pain comes in waves and as my mother speaks I feel the first pang of pain almost like a needle prick but I know that it will increase. It’s like an orchestra, this pain. It builds and builds… this one feels a little different though, it feels……
There’s something wrong. There’s something wrong. Maria wake up, wake up. I have to remember not shake so had. Maria baby, wake up. Where are these incompetent nincompoops when you need them? Oh here they are. Don’t push me away from my baby she needs me, she needs her mother. Why are they putting all these tubes on her frail body? Who the hell is that doctor to tell me to leave the room where my baby is? Where are they taking my baby girl?
..…Oh God this waiting, what is with incompetence of these nurses, it’s been five hours, no update, and I am about to snap and beat a fool.
Young man do I look okay to you? Stop asking such foolish questions.
Finally a doctor……
“…travelled to chest area….”
“Cut through all that, IS SHE ALIVE?!” I say cutting off the doctor. He starts to nod the affirmative and I begin to jubilate.
Wait a minute, did he just say coma, A COMA!
“A medically induced coma, not one that she slipped into, so we can ease her out of it,” he says. I want to scream, I want to break something, and I want to kick someone, oh but why!?
Angom, pull yourself together she’s not dead, she’s still alive, that means that there’s hope, she will be ok, she will be fine, I have to have faith. I have to hope, I have to be strong for my baby, my poor baby little girl. Oh God why? Why her, she’s the sweetest girl there is. She’s the best there is, she’s my little Maria, why her?
Forty eight hours later
There’s an itch on my leg. Someone is calling me and I’m trying to answer them but I can’t speak. The voice sounds so familiar, so near, yet so far. Oh that’s Mummy’s voice, I have to smile for her, but why are my eyes heavy. Wait! Who is this rude person who is flashing a light into my eyes?
“…responsive to stimuli….”
“…..can’t seem to open eyes….”
“Doctors please do something for my girl! Maria! Listen to Mama’s voice, Mama’s here” Mama, I’m coming, first let me just sleep, just sleep for a while, not long, I can’t fight the sleep, not this time. Oh but I need to smile for you Mama. I need to………..
MAMA MARIA 7
“I’m sorry Mama Maria, we’ve really done all that we can do…..I’m so sorry,” the doctor was saying but I didn’t want his apologies, I didn’t need them. I just wanted my baby back. I just want my baby back.
I think I was numb, I still am in a way. It couldn’t be that the greatest gift I had ever been given was also taken from me.
“…the Lord gives and the Lord taketh away…..” the priest is saying. Three days later at her funeral service, I see a lot of people who can’t even possibly understand the pain of losing a child come up to me and say they understand. But I’m numb. They say I’m strong, but I am numb. They encourage that time heals all wounds, but what do they know, really? Standing at her tombstone looking at the epitaph, loving daughter….. Dear Lord it was meant to be more than just that. She did
n’t get to grow up and see the world. Then the pain hit…………….