THE DEATH OF A WISE MAN
Like every other year in Nigeria, the dry and dusty December air smelt of Christmas as the harmattan unforgivingly bowed the trees under its strong winds. And slowly, it uncrowned them of their once magnificent leaves now turned brown.
A mother sparrow was in one of the trees tweedling a birdsong to its chicks sitting in the nest and chorusing along close to the house window of the room where he laid; unwary of an owl eyeing the family.
Meanwhile, inside the house, his frail manicured phalanges rested in my palm as I blinked the tears back. And I watched the hanging saline water drip tardily into a shy vein faintly pulsing below the wrist bone on his left hand.
He laid in bed utterly speechless for several weeks with a broken right femur and scalding bed sores studded his back and legs.
His arms and bum were well riddled with cannula and syringe piercings making his body so lithe. His body couldn’t take any more of the therapies.
The howl of deafening silence echoed through the ambience of mixed emotions. Time crawled round the clock and the sun sat still in shock to witness a brawler contend with the Grim Reaper.
I watched him like a newborn in its crib. His head crowned with grey hair rested on one of the pillows he was shored up; oh! My dear father…
His heartbeat that once throbbed against his rib-cage like a working piston slowly faded. And his breathing was like of one slowly sinking into a bathtub with nostrils barely above water level. He took short whiffs as he ‘drowned’ away.
His eyes slowly closed like the blossoms of the evergreen magnolia at dusk.
He drew in one last lung-filling inspiration barely looking into my eyes. And with a satisfied sigh, he let go his grip on life and shook hands with the Reaper while I held his left hand: and so it was that a tall tree fell.
He shut his eyes to this present passing mortality and peeled them open in eternity. He bowed out without mouthing any last words that I was sure were hanging from his slightly open chapped lips.
Oh, death! Why? I reached out with my free hand and close his fixated eyes wishing there was a plugged defibrillator in the room. My eyes burned coal-hot from trying to shut the tears in. But not for long as one leaked out and the rest freely coursed down my cheeks.
With his hand still in mine, we had one last shake that passed the baton but no last words. He waited for me to be by his side… The doctor’s firm grip on my shoulder abruptly cut the moment short as I saw him off. No goodbyes from the man who taught me almost everything I know. He taught me wisdom…
It felt like the roof was taken off with no blinds covering the window on a cold night while sleeping on the floor.
My eyes leaked some more. Again and again…
The last time I vividly took in his face again was before his grand delivery to mother earth as he laid on the catafalque. He seemed to be smiling through his glasses with bushy eyebrows like he trusted I knew what to do. Still, no last words…
THE CITY LIFE
Now back to the city, I remember he repeatedly told me long before his time of passage, “Listen to my instruction son. I will not always be here with you. Look for her and when you find her don’t let go, and she will protect and watch over you. Love her more than anything you ever wish for.”
These words toll endlessly in my head like the chiming bells of the city chapel a few blocks away.
Twas still a few hours shy of dawn and I was half asleep on the reading table. Thoughts kept flashing vividly through my mind as I laid my head in the pages of one of the open books I was studying.
The candles were all used up as I tried to raise my head while I held down the book to avoid ripping out the page stuck to the side of my face due to a teardrop.
Finally, I dozed off.
The sun had started peeping down. It smiled from behind the clouds as the flowers on the window ledge waved back in the cool morning breeze. I woke with a squint to eye the clock on the wall – past 10 am.
I stood up from the table with a stomach full of hunger and tiredness hung over my shoulders like a knapsack. I made for the bathroom carefully stepping around the books splashed on the floor.
After dousing some cold water on my face into the sink I reached for the towel hanging behind the door, wiped my face, and stubbed my left pinky toe as I staggered back to get my wallet on the dressing table.
It’s a great day! I thought to myself cracking a smile to lighten up the dull-looking face in the mirror.
Closing the door behind me, I shrugged into my shirt while jogging down the stairs to be greeted by mild showers of sun rays and the sweet scent of petrichor in the air.
I stood there, closing my eyes to feel the breeze brush my face while I filled my lungs with the scent. It reminded me of playing in the first rains.
I stepped onto the wet pavement and crossed the street to walk down to a small cafe two blocks away to the left on the opposite side.
While sitting outside the cafe under one of the umbrella shades I ordered a cup of cafe au lait and some biscuits. I had in view the window of my room from where I sat as I wrapped my hands around the warm mug. I lifted it and took a sip.
The steam of sweet scent caressed my nostrils as the liquid warmed my throat and found its way down to settle in. Alas! My blurry vision began to clear and so did my thoughts – of things I was to get, things I had to do, I needed to talk to God and oh!.. the widow I left behind.
Darn it! The spring within burst again and tried leaking out of my eyes but I held them back as I blinked faster. I chewed hard on the biscuits and took another long sip. While throwing my head back to prevent tear falls, I thumbed a drop off my right eye.
I looked up to my room window slightly open with flower vases sitting on the ledge. I noticed something perching on one of the vases and cleaned my eyes to see what it was – a bird.
Taking another long sip I gulped down almost half of the content of the mug. I had to finish breakfast, get some supplies, pass through the church, and then head back to the apartment.
After paying for the breakfast I looked toward the window again and the bird was gone. So was the drink playing tricks on my eyes?
“Is this just coffee and milk?” I asked the waiter.
I headed for the store on same line to get some books I needed, some candles, and other supplies. I fetched my wallet, paid the shopkeeper, and made for the door to push it open when he said from behind the counter,
“I hope you find what you’re looking for”
“Thank you” I answered turning around after hesitating then closed the door behind me.
How did he know I was looking for something?
A LADY AT THE CROSSROADS
While heading back the same way I came, I looked into the bag to be sure I got all I needed. What’s next? Go, drop the bag and head for the chapel.
I was a block away from mine still on the opposite side. Still skimming through what I got and forgetting to look up I bumped my head against the wall’s edge after the Carrefour. The supposed street to my left was a dead end.
First my toe and now my head? It felt like having another heart pounding above my left eye. While closing my eyes and dropping the bag, I held my thenar to forehead just above my left eye.
Sorry (I heard the husky voice in my head again)
“Mhm,” I mumbled under my breath with eyes still closed and my left hand to my head.
“Ahem! You’re really bleeding!”
Now I heard the hoarse voice louder and I opened my eyes to be sure it wasn’t a voice in my head. I was startled when looked left to see her standing with her back to the wall.
“Oh dear! I didn’t see you there,” I said in surprise as I dropped my hand and felt a trickle down my left eye. I blinked again and looked at my hand to see blood.
“You were not watching. Do you have any paper towels in ‘there’?” she asked as she came closer, pointing to the bag.
“No,” I answered as my hand went back up to apply pressure to the cut.
She reached into her pocket as she walked toward me and got something out. Unwrapping it she put it in her mouth and started chewing – a bubble gum. Really?
Peeling my hand off my face, she put the patch of gum on the cut.
“Put pressure on that for about 2 minutes so that the bleeding will stop.”
Then, for a moment did I stop being selfish to really look at the ‘nurse’ that stopped my bleeding. She looked tired and not well rested with tresses falling from her head to cover her face and bare shoulders except for her freckled nose.
And that husky voice… like she’s been shouting. I liked it though.
She had on suede boots and looked like she was part of a band or a solo country musician without a guitar. Smelt of outdoor woods and open nature.
“You look tired”
“That’s my middle name right now. I’m burned out. You stay around?”
“Yes. That’s me there”, I said pointing to my window. “So what are you doing here?” I asked
“I’m waiting for …” Just then, the church bell tolled. “…well, that’s my queue”
“Church… You going to church too?”
“Yes. What I was waiting for before you almost broke the wall with your face”
I could see the dimpled smile through her hair and laughed, but was reminded by the pain right above my eye that it was still there.
“You can take the gum off,” she said as we headed the same direction…
***To be continued***