Neighborhood stories

A dark quinquennial

     I am not dead.    

     Sometimes I come back from nothingness, a blank period of time. I don’t know how long the blackouts last. Other times I’m pulled out of a palpable dream, a virtual reality of some sort. The dreams are uneventful and in them, I don’t see color. Everything is either white or a shade of grey. Bright. I’m always waiting for something in the dreams. Nothing ever seems to happen until I’m unexplainably out of it—into total darkness, numb in every sense, except for my hearing. It’s like playing Hide-and-seek and I’m hiding in a closet, hearing my big sister’s voice, counting. Only this time, I can’t feel my breath and it is the darkest place yet.

     I like the darkness better. The darkness is closer to the ones I care about, my wife, my little boy, and my family. The sounds are live, and reality is within my grasp. This is not the afterlife. Islam has taught me about it, but I don’t know if I’ll get out of this alive.

    The dreams are lonely. I’m either sitting in a garden, a train station or some other places I can’t comprehend. I’m waiting, while other people mindlessly go on with their normal activities. No one talks to me and I don’t seem to be able to talk to any one either. Every one is a stranger. There’s nothing remarkable about them. I don’t remember any of their faces when I’m out of it. How can a dream be this insipid, stifle of subconsciousness and imagination?

     Faty said she’s bringing my little boy later. I’m afraid of slumbering into nothingness or a dream. This is the sixth time I’m coming up to the darkness. I’m afraid of not coming back next time. I don’t want to miss anything, especially today. I’d give anything to hear his sweet infant giggle again.

     I have been a good dad. My life has turn around for the better ever since Faty came into my life. Sometimes I feel like she’s a miracle I don’t deserve. My performance at work have been better and I am beginning to get the recognition that I deserve. One could say I’m on a winning streak before this.

     The nurses and doctors don’t say much about my condition. I wonder how long I’ve been here. It’s like they’re contented by the beeping of the machine. A slow, steady dial-tone that perhaps is a reassurance every second that I’m still in here.

     “Everything looks normal on the monitor” is the usually line nurses give the doctor. Their tones bear no emotion.

     I stopped asking myself why they’re not even trying to bring me back after the second time in the darkness. When I first heard my wife’s voice, reading to me. Then she thanked God for the machine’s beeping. Maybe that’s all any one could do.

    “Hang in there” she keeps saying, perhaps more to herself than to me.

     It seems everyone is waiting for me to come back. If only I remember how I got here; it might help in getting myself out of it.

                                                                                          ***

     I hear Faty’s voice approaching, her masculine yet soft voice, nectar to my ears. Unmistakable. I wish I could open my eyes and see her and my little boy again.

     “Put the card on the table for daddy to see when he wakes up, honey. Tell him what the card says”.

    “Happy birthday to the best daddy in the world”.

     My boy can speak? My little boy can speak! How long have I been out? My God, I’ve missed his first step, his first word… Everything.

    “Say goodbye now and wait for me outside with your uncle”.

     “Goodbye daddy”

     Goodbye little one. My big boy.

     “Goodbye little brother, I’ll miss you… I’ll always miss you”

     Why is my brother sobering and saying goodbye? What is Faty going to tell me?

                                                                           ***

     “Happy 36th, sweetheart. You’re officially closer to 40 than 30. I know you’ll love that, you love getting old. Hey listen… Remember the night you proposed to me? You said: ‘I’d give anything to make you mine’…”

     Of course I remember, I was a wreck who’s trying to get his life together because of you. Your father and everyone saw me as a man who’s up to no good; only you believed in me.

     “… And I said I’d do the same. I would have given everything to keep this going if I can. But… But five years… Five years is a long time. And I have given everything I have. I have sold our house. The car wasn’t worth much after the accident. I’m four million naira in debts. I have no where else to borrow. Your brother sold his car. He’s also in debts, only God knows how much. And only God knows how long it’ll take us to pay back. His family is miserable. Every one else have given far much more than we can afford. And now… We simply don’t have anything else to give… I don’t have anything else to give.

     I lived the worse days of my life these five years but today is the worst of them all. I’d given anything to see those big eyes of yours open again. I’m not ready to say goodbye but this is all I can do. I signed the papers, sweetheart. I signed the papers to turn off the life-support machines. I see so much of you in our little boy. He’s smart and brave just like you. We will miss you… I’ll always miss you. Forgive me. I love you, sweetheart. And I’ll always remember you.”

     “Sorry to bother you, Ma’am. The doctors are here, I think it’s time. Whenever you’re ready.”

     Five years? Five years… Oh my God! What have I done to you? I should be the one seeking forgiveness. I took everything away from you, my dear wife. What good am I to you now? I can’t help myself, I can’t help anyone. Helplessness is the worst kind of being. Death is a blessing. if what you have done in these years is not enough, then it is not God’s will for me to wake up again.

     “Are you ready ma’am?”

     Forgive me, my dear wife. I’ll always love you… Till we meet again. It’s time I started reciting the Shahadah.

                                         ***

     I am not dead and this is not the afterlife. My nostrils feel the warmth of air again. My lungs hurt, hungry for more air. I hear the chaos in the room. The doctors calling for one thing or another. I don’t hear the machine beeping anymore. I feel my eyelids rising, everything is a blur. My focus is gradually coming back. It sets on the card planted on the side table that says: “Happy birthday to the best daddy in the world”.  

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