Friday 26 July 2019

Her Last Breath (Episode Five)

I glanced around the room with squinty eyes, noting the usual ‘whiteness’ of the room. The white-painted wall and white curtains that billowed out around me. The putrid smell of iodoform wafting through the room. I was in the hospital…again!

I could spot my family members seated around me. My mother crying with puffy eyes and tightening her grip on my right hand. Fadilah, sitting by her usual corner and staring at me with a morose look. My father, pacing back and forth and trying his possible best to feign confidence… trying to pretend to others that I would be fine when he knew full well that I wouldn’t be.

“She’s awake!” My mother stated with a surge of excitement, smiling in between tears and patting my arm.

I blinked steadily, willing the throbbing in my head to disappear. I tried to remember all that had happened and why I was here…then the picture of Taofeek flashed in my mind.

“Where’s Taofeek?” I asked with an eager tone.

He had watched me fall to the ground and lie helplessly. He would be the one to call an ambulance and contact my parents. He would have realized what I had hidden from him. I couldn’t bear to lose him…

“He’s not here. We didn’t allow him into the hospital ward, neither did we permit any doctor to tell him what had happened.” My father said with moistened eyes.

I sighed in relief and closed my eyes, imagining how devastating it would be to lose Taofeek. I wouldn’t mind keeping him around, even if it meant concealing my health status from him.

“However, Abdul Lateef has been here since yesterday. He slept on the reception floor yesterday...” Fadilah was saying but I interrupted her.

“What is he doing here?” I yelled in an angry tone.

“He is concerned about your health. He knew when we hurried to the hospital, so he decided to accompany us,” my mother said, smiling at me.

“Yes, he broke your heart but he’s still Abdul Lateef. I think he deserves to know that you’re awake. He’s in the reception. I’ll invite him to come and see you now.” Fadilah said, standing up from the chair. “And Taofeek also deserves to know how you are fairing. He has been calling me repeatedly since yesterday. I didn’t pick his calls because I don’t know what to say.” Fadilah said, leaving the room.

The feeling of guilt crept inside of me. Taofeek would be panic-stricken, wondering what had happened and why my family had shut him away. I wished that I could explain everything to him, to make him understand that I wanted to fulfill one of my goals; to get married to him.

“You’ll be fine, Khayrah. Allah is with us always. Your dad and I make this issue our major prayer point every tahajjud. We want to see you get married and bear children. We want to see you live for more years.” She cried as my father walked towards where she was seated.

“But Khayrah, Fadilah is right. You have to tell Taofeek everything. You shouldn’t hurt him this way just to fulfill your wish. How would you feel if the tables were turned…if Taofeek had kept something this serious from you? Do you think you’ll be able to forgive him?” My father stated matter-of-factly.

I turned my face and fought the tears that had filled my eyes from falling. He was right. Fadilah was right. They were all right. Maybe I was just being very selfish…Taofeek deserved to know everything.

“We haven’t tasted anything since yesterday. Let me take your mother to the nearest restaurant to have breakfast. I’ll tell the doctor that you’re awake.” My father said, holding her as they walked out of the room.

As the door closed in front of me, I felt the hot tears that streamed down my face. I wished I was my father…or my mother…or my sister…or Taofeek…or Abdul Lateef. I wished the hospital wasn’t my second home. I wished that I wasn’t inflicted with a terminal disease. I hated myself. I wished that I had come to this world as Fadilah; my beautiful and healthy sister who didn’t have to bother about taking drugs and making occasional visits to the hospital. Who didn’t have to care for her dying elder sister!

‘Astaghfirllah.’ I muttered, knowing that I had just displayed ingratitude to Allah.

When I had shown elements of sorrow and anger, my father had taken me around the hospital ward, showing me patients with worse health conditions. Since that day, I had decided to create a gratitude list and write down the numerous blessings Allah had showered me with.

“Khayrah? Can I enter?” A whisper came in as the door opened swiftly. I recognized the voice as that of Abdul Lateef.

I cleaned my eyes and sat upright, watching as he strode towards the bed. His eyes were red and sunken and his face was ashen. He had looked that way the day I was rushed to the hospital…the very day I was diagnosed with cancer.

“I’m sorry…”

“No, you’re not. Why don’t you go home and rest? My family members are with me. You’re of no help here.” I frowned at him, staring at the ceiling and fighting the urge to gaze at his brown eyeballs and long lashes.

He should not be here. He left me when I needed him the most. He took our love for granted.

“My mind won’t be at rest. I won’t be able to perform any task, knowing full well you’re in a delicate state. I broke your heart and I’m sorry. I was confused when I heard about the news. I didn’t even know what to do. They said you have leukemia, Khayrah! I was scared my heart will be shattered when you eventually leave this world.”

“And you decided to break my heart instead? Why are you even here?”

“To take you back. Let’s get married and travel around the world. I would cherish the short time we’ll spend together.” Abdul Lateef pleaded, falling to his knees and bringing forth tears from his eyes.

I couldn’t fathom what had happened. I was in the same position a year ago, begging Abdul Lateef and proving that there were ways I could manage my illness for years.

“My aunt had leukemia. They had to change her blood every two weeks…a lot happened to her and she was a shadow of her real self. She didn’t live for more than three months.” He had said while I bawled out my eyes and pleaded that my life was incomplete without him.

Now, here he was! Begging to take me back!

“You have a fiancée. Do you intend to also break her heart?”

“We’re not compatible. I don’t love her as much as I love you. I made a mistake and I’m going to correct that before it’s too late.”

Amidst the drama, I chuckled and glared at him. “You’re not compatible? So if I accept you into my life again, you’ll wake up one morning and tell me the same thing? Please, you have to leave now. If you don’t know, I’m engaged.”

“Have you told him? Does he know you have leukemia?”

I shot daggers at him, furious that he had the nerve to pronounce such word with ease. Maybe he didn’t realize how the sound of that word pierced a thorn in my heart. Leukemia!

“You have to leave now! Leave or I’ll call the security!” I screamed at him.

“Please Khayrah…”

“Abdul Lateef, please leave now. I don’t want to see your face!”

Resigned to fate, he lowered his head and walked out of the room.
We left the hospital three days later, after days of intense treatments and check-ups. My family tried to brighten the atmosphere as usual by bringing my favourite movies and placing my iPad in a position where I could binge-watch movies on Netflix and watch my favourite shows on YouTube. It was like all other times when I would spend weeks in the hospital and return home, feeling drained and knowing that I was different from others- with my skinny look and chopped hair.

But it was different this time. I thought about Taofeek every second of the day and wondered how he was fairing…how he would be bothered about my welfare and how distraught he felt for the fact that my family members shut him out. I wondered if he would forgive me when he found out the truth. I wondered if I would live to get married to him.

“You’ll be fine,” Fadilah squeezed my hand as Mr. Lolu pulled into the street that led to our house. I was eager to return home and lie on my bed, eat meals prepared by Hafsah and breathe-in the sweet morning breeze. I had missed home!

“Wetin I dey see oo! No be Ogaa Taofeek be this?” Mr. Lolu exclaimed as Fadilah and I raised our heads, searching frantically and spotting Taofeek seated in front of the gate with his hands over his head.

I could feel a throbbing in my chest as Mr. Lolu parked in front of the gate, horning for the gateman to allow us into the compound. My parents’ car was behind us and they would have noticed what was transpiring. Taofeek whipped his head up at the sound of the horn and stared at the car, running forward and searching inside for me. I could see him sighing in relief as he spotted my face and then, a deep frown spread across his face.

“You have to tell him the truth. Today.” Fadilah stated with firmness.

I nodded my head as I opened the door. Taofeek was standing in front of me, looking like a different version of himself. He smiled weakly and frowned again. “What happened? I haven’t slept for four days now.”

“I’m sorry, I’ll explain everything.”

“And who’s this Abdul Lateef…”

“Asalamu ‘alaykum Taofeek. Please, can we go inside? You know Khayrah just got back from the hospital and she needs to rest.” My mother said, poking her head out of the window.

“Wa’alaykumu salam. Okay.” He sighed, entering the compound as the cars pulled into the garage. I stood beside him with trembling legs as Hafsah embraced me in excitement and pulled the bags from the boot of the cars. Abdul Lateef came out at that minute with a concerned look. He glanced at Taofeek with a creased forehead and walked up to me.

“How are you doing now?”

“She’s fine.” Taofeek replied, stepping into our middle and glaring at him.

“Okay. I’ll see you later.” He murmured and walked away.

Fadilah supported me as we entered the living room that was wafting of Hafsah’s homemade jollof rice and fried fish. Hafsah always ensured that she made a special delicacy upon my arrival from the hospital.

“We’re sorry for ignoring your calls and preventing you from seeing Khayrah. Believe me, it was beyond us. Khayrah wanted that. I hope she explains why she did that to you.” My father said as he walked into the lobby.

Reducing the tension that filled the air, my mother stood up and clasped her hands, smiling graciously. “Can we have breakfast? I’m sure we’re all starving!”

“Yes, we are! I need to eat a good meal because it’s junks I’ve consuming in that hospital.” Fadilah whined, sniffing the air and walking towards the kitchen.

“I need to have a proper bath. I’ll join you soon.” I glanced at Taofeek who had started to walk towards the dining room.

Getting to my room, I slumped on the bed and heaved a sigh of relief, glad to be home again. My phone buzzed in my bag and I reached for it. It was then I realized that I hadn’t checked my phone for over seven days.

I still love you…no matter what. I love you more than anything you can ever imagine. I always look forward to seeing your face every morning. I think of you before going to bed every night. I love you, Khayrah and I don’t care if you’re with a man who doesn’t love you as much as I do. I hope you realize that we’re meant for each other. Me and you!
-Abdul Lateef.
“Nonsense.” I deleted the message and blocked his number instantly. I couldn’t believe that he would have the nerve to say that to me…after everything he’d done.

I could see swarms of messages that filled my notification. They were all from Taofeek.
What is wrong? What really happened? I was scared to death when I saw you falling to the ground…

Please don’t leave me alone. You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever set my eyes on…

When will you be discharged? How serious is this?

I’ve been to the hospital a million times and no one would let me enter. Surprisingly, one Abdul Lateef is granted entrance. What is going on, Khayrah???

Your sister isn’t picking her calls or replying her messages. Your parents aren’t either. They won’t even let me see you. I don’t understand…didn’t they accept me or they pretended the day I visited?

Khayrah, I love you and I can’t sleep. I’ve been crying all day long. I’m not myself anymore. I need to see you…

I hope you’re fine. I hope you’ll return to me. I took an excuse from work today. I’ve been on the prayer mat since morning, praying to Allah that He restore your health and keep you alive. I love you more than you can ever imagine…

This morning, I stood by your gate, waiting for your return because I’m not allowed entrance into the hospital. I saw that same Abdul Lateef and he confronted me, telling me he still loves you and you love him too. I don’t want to believe him…

Khayrah, I’m scared. Do you still love him? He is your neighbour and he claimed that you’ve once been engaged. Is this the reason I can’t see you?

This night, I dreamt of a period we were in a small room, smiling as our children slept soundly in front of us and we embraced and kissed passionately. It was the best dream I’d ever had…

Tears had filled my face as I pulled my phone away and buried my wet face into my pillow. I was wrong to have hidden the truth from him. He was in love with me and I was trying to trap him into getting married to a dying person. I shouldn’t have done that.

I walked towards the mirror stand and held my scarf, wailing as I willed myself to remove it from my head. Pulling it off steadily, I wailed louder as I watched my bald head- the head that used to be composed of full, long and black hairs.

“Khayrah! Your food is getting cold!” My mother yelled from the living room.

I took out a roll of tissue paper to blow my nose and dry my wet face. I sighed loudly as I opened the room door and headed for the living room.

I peeked from the curtain and stared at them as they were eating. “Did she have Malaria and typhoid? Malaria virus can be dangerous combined with typhoid. My brother once had this and he spent almost two weeks in the hospital. It was Allah that saved his life.” I heard Taofeek say as he placed a spoonful of rice into his mouth. My family members exchanged awkward glances and changed the topic, in a bid to avoid answering his question.

I closed my eyes in anxiety as I counted one to three before walking into the living room.

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