Sometimes, the rains do not fall several months into a new year. When they finally fall, they come with little mercy. As if they’d been unjustly denied of their right to whip into mother earth, they attack with great relish; flooding homes, wiping paved streets clean, filling up river banks.
The weather that night was bad, muggy and overcast. I could hardly sleep. The torrent was heavy and the thunders never seemed to cease – a bad omen, presaging the terror that was about to come. Mom didn’t return until it was almost mid-day. She told us it was just an exaggerated emergency call; that Dad had been rushed to the clinic after a vomiting spree. I felt oddly pacified by her assurances partly because she had a knack for downplaying horrible incidents even where the average person would react in hysteria. But what could a little girl wish for; it may have been that he was only reacting to something he ate – I wasn’t quite sure – well, time would tell.
Later in the week, we got to know better. Dad was hospitalized for days. The doctors took note of the symptoms; vomiting, dizziness and stooling of blood. After conducting preliminary tests and scans they became certain that it was not an ulcer. So, they opted for a CT scan. Mum was very optimistic that the tests would turn out good – we all were – but Dad had begun to feel serious pains. He’d neglected these signs in the past, for they were only momentary. Now, they turned out more frequently, each fresh episode of pain becoming more poignant than the former. The scan was carried out shortly, his innards pictured in shadowy forms and at different angles. Still, the doctors could not tell what the problem was. We were soon informed that Dad had to undergo a biopsy. His spleen was removed temporarily, along with other gastric tissues, to be examined. They were afterwards made to pass through the microscope – as the doctors explained – where abnormal cell growths were discovered. They were large in size and numerous, each possessing a J-like shape. Dad became pensive. He hated this; being wheeled into and out of the theatre room, held down by strappings, as his body was pumped with anesthetics time and time again. The horrifying hospital scent only served to add to his woes. He became aware that he was a carrier of a deathly ailment and the demons which had been terrorizing him of late where in fact the malignant tumors that lined his gastric system. He grew very afraid. This was the last thing he would have ever envisaged.
For the doctors themselves, this was hard to comprehend. Their patient was only a forty two year old man; one who had no history of smoking or alcoholism. Besides, none of his family members had been diagnosed with the ailment in the past. They wondered what exactly had gone wrong. More so, in the history of ST. James hospital, GRA , there’d been just one patient admitted with stage 1 gastric cancer; a very rare disease with astronomic effects. They had to act and act quickly. After series of consultations, chemotherapy seemed the next logical step – if at all, to stem the reproduction of the tumors into other body parts. A change of diet was prescribed and in the following 3 weeks – the 6th of August; 2007 – treatment would commence.
Of all emotions mum had sufficient equanimity to conceal, shock was the least of them. When she received the written medical report, she could not hide it. For some seconds her mouth was left agape and when she eventually managed to sit, she kept staring into empty space. This sudden turn of events was hardly easy for her to control. They moved too quickly and far too disjointedly. Divorce proceedings were just about to kick off when this sad news kicked in – like a kick boxer—knocking everything in its path upside down. The lawyers had to compel the judge to hand down a stay-of-proceedings, at least, for the time being. For more than thirteen years, she had been married to her now estranged husband and during that time, he never showed any sign of cancer – he hardly fell sick too. What was more surprising was that he’d been diagnosed of gastrointestinal cancer; a very rare type. When he said that his family had no history of chronic illnesses, she believed him. He might have been a cheat, but he was never a good liar, for he gave away too easily when she confronted him with shy proofs of his extra marital affair.
Amongst the three of us, Annalise was the only one who fared good at managing her feelings. For me, it was almost impossible to concentrate at school. Even when we were asked to engage in fun-filled extra-curricular activities, the smile would never come. Despair was virtually setting in. Everywhere I looked I would see his weary face, feebly supported by his gaunt neck sticking out from those grisly hospital clothes. I prayed every night that he would get better; that the sickness would not take him; that his demons would not drag him to the underworld where he would have no chance to shine like the stars he told me about. The preceding eight months could easily be said to be the worst days of my life. Everything seemed to fall apart – as Chinua Achebe ( of blessed memory ) said – the centre could not just hold.
Life is so unpredictable when you are behind the wheels, speeding at the rate of 190km/hr through a long narrow bridge on a rainy evening. One wrong move, one second’s lapse of concentration, could lead to a series of events culminating in heart-wrenching tragedy. Dad completed chemotherapy in October. By this time, he was feeling a little better, managing to smile with less difficulty. This made us very happy; most especially, me. School closed and summer vacation began. I could spend more time with him now in his hospital room, laughing and chatting just about anything just like we did when we were a family – strong and indivisible – and when love was our most sacred value. Each time I went up to visit him that summer, I became more convinced that he never really changed. He’d made a mistake – we all do – but the chance to correct it never came easy for him. For mum, love and trust were two separable phenomena though pain is felt when the two are so carelessly detached. She still loved him. I saw it in her eyes. Not merely out of pity for a suffering man, but I guessed an unfair mixture of both emotions coursed through her.
Soon after he had completed his chemotherapy, it became clear that he needed more treatment. The doctors were reluctant to break the news at first, but they finally did, as the funny niggling pains recommenced. The tumors had already spread to other body parts, scathing the liver and kidneys. He needed radiotherapy now. He needed it badly. If the tumors succeeded in riddling his delicate organs, he would be gone for good.
Late in October, he went under the light. The first sessions turned out to be the most gruelling. He reacted awfully. His vomiting became much more violent. He could keep nothing down. His screams grew louder, sounding rather eerie. For some reasons which the doctors could not explain, the anaesthetics could not be administered any longer. The nurses doubled their numbers, shuffling up and down the long narrow hallway that led to the large theatre, moving supplies, trays and towels as the three of us – Mum, Annalise and I – stood, sometimes praying, sometimes pacing around, other times weeping, hoping the nightmare would cease quickly. When it did, we had to face the creepy aftermath. We walked into the large room gently, as he slowly dabbed at his eyes which were already bulging red out of his colourless face. I decided from that day onward to never leave his side. I told myself I couldn’t let him go through the torment alone.
One Friday evening, I went to visit him as I now so often did. I moved towards the window to let some air into the room as his sad eyeballs rotated along. He was still holding incorrigibly on to the slick taut tendrils of life, though the pains racked him body and soul, so he continued to sink lower and lower into the profoundest depths of hell. The disease had turned him into a vegetable as tears frequently rolled monotonously down the sides of his face, amidst whimpers, while his body convulsed in pain. He was disappearing deeper into the sheets; his pale face appearing more like a poorly done artwork than a real being. He was vaporizing right before our eyes, becoming the shadow of the man he once was but I knew that shadow still loved me. He called out my name through his failing voice: “Amanda”. “yes Dad” I replied softly. Then he continued: “you know, I’m-I’m really sorry for what I did to you and Annalise. I should’ve never left the way I did. I know you may h-h-have hated me for what I did……….maybe even now……” I had to cut him short. “ please stop, don’t say that Dad”. The tears had started to build up – slowly but steadily. I walked towards the bed and held his shaking hands carefully, wishing that, in that moment, nature would allow me defy its course, so I could bear his cross; to absorb half of all the pain that troubled him inside; that made him writhe and whimper as a little child, leaving him with no faint trace of courage. Still fighting to hold back the tears, I said, “ I’d never hate you….not now, not ever……. I love you now Dad, I’ll love you always”.
Two days later, – the 15th of November 2007 – he kicked the bucket. Somehow, someplace, strength filtered into his bones. He’d climbed up the stairs, to the top of the building. He spread his arms wide like an apparition and dived – head first – or so I heard. I sometimes blame myself for his death. I’d promised to be by his side always but I failed to keep it. I was rather found strutting the back of the massive hospital compound at the moment of his demise. I wanted some fresh air but I could hardly breathe when I arrived the scene. It was a horrifying din of wailing voices. Fresh lumps of gashed tissues and brains littered the floor, blood on the concrete, chaos, bedlam! This time the tears did come, stinging with every drop that did fall. He was gone, and he was done.
In December, we had the funeral. To me, it seemed like fiction and ceremony was all there was to it. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t real. Just a little while back, he was here; not just as a part of a story or some recent history, no! He was blood and flesh. He was my favorite and I was his too. The vignettes of his existence still float seamlessly through my mind. Dad had once said that life was partially hot and sweet at the same time, but it was hotter in hell and sweeter in heaven. As he was lowered six feet under, the choir continued singing. lights will guide you home was the tune they rendered, their voice reaching a highly sonorous crescendo when they rounded off. I prayed tearfully that God would have mercy on his poor troubled soul. He’d begged for euthanasia but none was offered him, so he took the plunge. He dived deep, all in a bid to escape his demons – not minding if there were a thousand more on the other side. He spread his arms wide like a bird; willing to fly, willing to be free from all the pains and sorrows of this dreadful biosphere.
Dad, I had no doubts when I said those words on that Friday evening, holding your hands while I fought back the tears although I can tell that I felt one drop fall and hit my outstretched arm, or was it two? I love you now Dad, always and forever. Loving you was hard but loving you was real.
PRINCE ERIGO is a 400 level law student of the university of Benin. An imaginative writer, content marketer and loyal friend. Reach him at email@example.com