Saturday 3 August 2019

Her Last Breath (Episode Six)

I was pacing back and forth in my office, wondering what would be the outcome of the meeting and how I would be able to handle the presentation which would be held in the next thirty minutes. I wondered why the so-called presentation had to happen on the same day I would be meeting Khayrah to reveal what she had been hiding from me…what everyone had been hiding from me.

The presentation would hold soon and I needed to report financial statements and tax returns to the management before noon. When Khayrah had asked where we could meet, I had suggested that we meet at Treaties, a restaurant located on the same street where I worked.

Khayrah had promised to reveal what she was hiding after breakfast on the day she was discharged from the hospital. I had spent close to an hour at her place, talking to her family members and eating pancakes and fish rolls prepared by Hafsah.

Khayrah had accompanied me to the end of the street when I was leaving for home, sighing deeply and occasionally glancing at me. I knew that what she was about to say would be something so grievous, that it might affect our relationship.

Tears streamed down her face as she stopped halfway and stared at me. “I cannot tell you. Not now, not today. Not even tomorrow. I’m scared of telling you this and I hope you forgive me when you realize the truth. I’m scared because telling you now might make it the last time I’ll be seeing your face. Can we see on Monday? I promise to tell you everything!” she had pleaded and I nodded in response, fighting the tears that had swelled my eyes from falling.

Today was finally the D-day! The day I would find out the truth…the truth that Khayrah had kept away from me.

 A sudden knock on the office door startled me from my thought. Daniel came in that second, smiling graciously. “Fine guy! How you dey now? You just dey fresh anyhow like butter! Me sef wan get fine face like you oo!” He laughed, striding towards the table and taking a seat.

Daniel was my closest colleague at my workplace. A tall and lanky man who hailed from the Eastern part of the country, he had a jovial nature that always made me cheerful, even on days that I felt disconsolate.

“Fine face no dey bring money oo!” I chuckled, resuming my seat and playing with the stapler on the table.

Daniel roared in a staccato of laughter. “But e dey bring fine babes…”

“This babe I wan marry…I no know wetin she wan tell me. I just dey confused. I no fit concentrate.”

“Khayrah? What happened?” Daniel’s eyes widened in shock as his face turned serious all of a sudden.

“There’s something she’s hiding from me. It might cause our relationship to end. I spent last night ruminating over what could have happened. It’s possible she found out about my children. It’s possible she hasn’t gotten over her ex. It’s possible she doesn’t want to continue with this, because of my financial status…anything could be possible, Daniel.” I placed my hands over my head in frustration.

Daniel patted me on the shoulder. “You’ll be fine, I promise. You’re strong and brave. I’m sure you can handle this. I would have invited you to our usual hangout at the beer parlour tonight but I just remembered you’ve turned alfa!” Daniel guffawed as he marched towards the door. “Please, be fine.”

“I will,” I winked at him in assurance.
I raised my hands in supplication and thereafter, bowed down to praise Allah for His uncountable blessings. I thanked Him for guiding me to the right path, despite the wrong deeds I had committed in the past. I prayed that He continued to keep me steadfast on the right path until I take my last breath. I thanked Him for a successful presentation and for receiving great news about my promotion at my workplace. I prayed that my meeting with Khayrah would turn out successful and that we would work out whatever issue she brought forth.
After performing two rak’ah of nawafil, I kept my lips busy with praises as I walked down the road, recalling the events that had occurred within the space of one hour. After the successful presentation, I had been invited by the Chief Accountant to his office. It was then he broke the news that I had been promoted to the position of a Senior Accountant. It was unbelievable! I never expected the news!
‘If Khayrah wants to end this because of my financial status, then this is good news!’ I muttered, walking towards the restaurant at a faster pace.

Khayrah was seated at the tail end of the room, engrossed in her phone as she sipped from the flask she always took around. She always kept to time; I wondered what made her imbibe to time management strictly. She was putting on a red gown and black hijab, her spectacles glistening in the room.

Walking up to where she was seated, I smiled and greeted with the salam.

Khayrah whipped her head up. “Wa’alaykumu salam.” She replied and lowered her eyes.

It was very unusual for her. On a normal day, Khayrah would furrow her eyebrows and accuse me of getting there late as usual. This time around, she smiled weakly. Khayrah looked sick and ashen. She looked thinner than the last time I set eyes on her. I wondered if she had fallen ill again.

“I’m sorry. I had to perform salah before heading here. How are you? I hope you’re in a perfect state of health?”

“AlhamduliLlaah. I have something…” she was saying but I cut her statement in a surge of excitement.

“I have a piece of great news for you. But before that, I have a little concern. You look sick, my love. Have you been sleeping with mosquito net?”

“It’s not about mosquito net, Taofeek. There’s something I need to tell you…”

“I have something to tell you to. I just got promoted to the position of a Senior Accountant. This translates to an upgrade in my monthly salary. I don’t know what you want to tell me but if it’s about the fact I’m not rich enough…”

“Please, just let me talk!” Khayrah yelled in frustration, tears streaming down her face.

It was then I knew that it was more than what I had expected. It was not about my financial status…it was worse than that!

Dreading to hear the news, I placed my shivering hands on my head and said silently. “Are you still in love with Abdul Lateef?”

“I have cancer, Taofeek. Yes, you heard me right. I have cancer. I was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia last year. I am dying, Taofeek. I wake up every morning, knowing that my days on earth are limited. It’s like counting one’s last breath. I’ve undergone several weeks of aggressive chemotherapy. To keep the disease under control, I am receiving low-dose chemotherapy and radiation therapy to kill cancer cells. I am also receiving on-and-off maintenance treatment. Since acute leukemia patients usually have extremely low counts of healthy blood cells, we are usually given transfusions of red blood cells and platelets, and we receive drugs to fight infection and to reduce nausea and vomiting that may arise as side effects of chemotherapy.  I didn’t slump at Domino because of Malaria. I slumped because of this! I do not need mosquito net…I am dying and my days on earth are limited.” Khayrah said with shivering lips. Tears had filled her face and she was bawling loudly, catching the attention of others in the restaurant.

My eyes widened in shock and disbelief. I had imagined several stories Khayrah might have planned on telling me. But I hadn’t expected it to be as worse than this! Cancer, the deadliest disease, was what Khayrah had?! I found it unfathomable. On second thought, I imagined that she could be joking…maybe she had planned with her parents to test my love for her…but this was different! No one would lie about having cancer! Khayrah had cancer! Khayrah was dying! The woman I planned on spending the rest of my life with had limited time to spend on earth.

I stared at her with moistened eyes, wishing that someone would wake me from my slumber to inform me that I had been dreaming.

“Tell me this isn’t true. You can’t have leukemia, Khayrah. We planned on spending the rest of our lives with each other. You can’t…”

“I am a monster, Taofeek. I am a selfish and inconsiderate woman with no regards for human feelings. I should have told you this from the onset. I knew that no man would want to walk down the aisle with a dying woman…not a woman who might leave the world before her wedding night. Abdul Lateef left me because of this. I just wanted to fulfill my wish of falling in love and getting married before I die. I’m really sorry, Taofeek.” Khayrah pleaded in tears.

“I…I don’t even know what to say…” I prattled, wondering if I even knew anything about the woman I wanted to get married to. I wondered where to start from after feeling fulfilled that I had found the one. I wondered if I could still get married to Khayrah, after knowing the state of her health.

“Please forgive me. I’m sure you’re probably wondering what words to tell me…how to tell me that the marriage wouldn’t hold. I’m used to this, Taofeek. Abdul Lateef, a man whom I loved with all of my heart broke off our engagement when I least expected. I won’t be surprised if you do so too, and I understand why you have to. I was at fault for hiding such grievous news from you.”

“I’m also at fault. We hid terrible things from each other.”

Khayrah arched her brows in concern. “You didn’t hide anything from me…”

“I did. I did terrible things in the past. I engaged in illicit affairs with different women. I have three children out of wedlock.”

Khayrah cleaned her wet nostrils and glared at me. “Three children?!”

“Yes, Aliyah, Hassan and Hassanah.”

“I can’t believe this. Why would you hide this from me? You know what? We’ve both wronged each other and this won’t work.” Khayrah said, grabbing her bag and storming out of the building.

I didn’t try to stop her because it was right. We couldn’t be together. I couldn’t get married to a dying woman. Khayrah couldn’t also accept the fact that I had three children.

As she walked out of the building, I critically studied her physique for the first time. How hadn’t I noticed that she was too thin and frail to look normal?
“Cancer? Haba! That’s too much oo! So, when you finally decided to settle down, you didn’t see any woman but one with leukemia? B’e ko yi se tobi to, ehn Taofeek?” My father said in an exasperating tone as we all sat in the living room, listening to all that had transpired yesterday.

Jaleel was seated at the right corner of the room, whipping his head up intermittently to show that he was a part of the discussion while he was engrossed on his laptop. Lukman, my elder brother, had visited and he was sitting beside me on the wide sofa.

“Cancer ke? Why didn’t she tell you before now? It wasn’t right to keep such a thing away from her fiancé. It is very wrong!” Lukman continued.

“But I also hid my children from her. I should have told her before we started this whole marriage plans.”

“Hiding her health status is worse than this oo! Well, thank God this is all over and you’ve just gotten promoted. In sha Allah, you’ll find a better woman who will be your rightful wife. I’m going inside to rest, jare.” My father remarked, walking into the room.

Lukman turned towards me with scrutinizing eyes. “Do you still intend to go on with this?”

“I’m going inside, bro. I also need to rest.” I stood up but Lukman tailed me as I entered my room. “Do you know what it means to get married to her? She’ll be dying anytime and you’ll be left heartbroken.”

“How about us? We will die anytime, too. Who has the probability of not dying before those diagnosed with cancer? This ailment can be seen as a reminder of death. Several times, we go about our various businesses, without thinking that we could depart this world at any point in time, with no warning. But those with terminal illnesses are pre-informed about the vanity of this world. They are aware that death could appear at any point and as they count their last breaths, they are more conscious about Allah and the last day.” I admonished him.

Lukman sighed deeply and gazed at me. “I want to invite you to a ceremony. With your handsome look, you’ll surely catch one or two ladies there. Is it not you? I wonder the number of ladies you’ve been with!” He winked at me.

“What of your wife and child?”

Lukman snorted as he walked towards the wardrobe. “Marriage life is not that easy oo. I want us to go alone, without a company. I miss my single life sha,” he replied.

“Without Aliyah?”

“You can’t take your daughter everywhere you go to. We’re going alone to this ceremony.”

“Okay…” I was saying when my phone started to ring. I checked the caller and it was an unknown number. “Hello, who’s this?”

“How is my daughter? I hope she’s fine?”

“Who’s this?” I asked with a shaky voice.

“Jasmine. I just returned to Nigeria. I need to see my daughter.”

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