I knew I lost you the moment Susanna swooped down on your hospital bed smothering you with watermelons, apples, carrots and care. I, a shadow at the corner of the room, gnawing at my nails with each precious breathe you took, each breathe that snatched you farther from death; she a rose, blossoming before you in the sunlight that filtered in through the white-paper window curtains. I knew I’d lost you then, which is why I had to let you go.
Blood and tears and pain I tasted when you called me to pick you up a few kilometers out of town because nobody had seen you go down the ditch. It was a Monday morning, and the road is as clear as the checkered bedspread mama gave us last Christmas. Before I traced the crazed path the car had made in the bush, my heart pounding, I could taste your blood, tears and pain. I found you mangled behind the steering and my heart stopped, bone dead; I swayed slightly to the tremors that rocked me. Nora… you called. Help him I charged myself.
The nurses were surprised that I was your wife. You should have seen their faces. A White Woman? They jumped to action when I yelled them to do something. I didn’t sleep that first night. My most favorite thing in the world about to… I couldn’t think of it. Just don’t think of it I told myself. Leave the evils Nora.
The doctor said you had broken your spinal cord. That this man I’d left Britain for, learnt how to eat eba for and loved so much it ached, loved so much it brought a ringing pain to the back of my eyes, might come out of the operation a vegetable or wheel chair passenger at the best of circumstances. Did I have the money for the surgery up-front? Mother called from Sussex, was not too sad at the news. Don’t take it too personal, you know she never approved of you. Said at least if you lost your mind it will be an opportunity for me to come back, prodigal, and start my life anew. Wallace had not gotten married since I left, was on the downside of London if the tabloids were any truthful and I would be the right tonic for him. Naturally, a fair share of his estate would be mine, whether I divorced him or not, I had nothing to lose coming back, when was I coming back? I smashed the phone on the hospital terrazzo.
When you opened your eyes I was there, eyes that had never looked save with love at me. He was lucky, Doctor said; at least he hadn’t lost his mind. I was lucky, I thought; you hadn’t broken my heart. You loved me you said, but never stopped wondering what I was still doing with you. Do you remember? Complained that you were an invalid. One day you flung my things at me, yelled at me to leave, you didn’t stop yelling until I slapped you and reminded you that you were my invalid.
A month and you walked! Confused steps to a jungle dance at first but you did! Wiggled your black bottoms around the bed and after a week, up and down the corridor. Now I can’t remember how much joy I felt, it’s impossible for someone to feel so much in such a fraction of time. Then you pushed it too hard, wanted to climb the stairs. Tumbled back down to the first floor landing, into my arms laughing once you stopped wincing from the pain. I laughed with you. Doctor came down from the stairs with a reprimanding frown and removed you from my arms, for examination, told us that evening you won’t walk again.
You died every night since that evening, can you remember? At daytime, when I forced you back to life with light from the paper window curtains and jollof rice you went to black, sweeping the plate of food to the ground, pounding your fists on the white wall behind you and once my face. I didn’t mind, I go back to black myself sometimes, just that I don’t demonstrate too much.
It was in these black days Susanna came, a sweet memory from your childhood returned to you. Ebony skin, full-lipped smile that filled the room with too much light, light that shooed me and my white phosphorescence that never matched your chocolate skin when we made love into the dark crevices of the room; the spot between two walls where a rusted trolley with broken ampules and abandoned syringes perched… Her light was merciful to you, it redeemed you of your blackness for in it you were the perfect man who had just lost his way but it condemned me of mine, so I tried to stay out of the room every time she came. But before I closed the door after saying hi to her, I saw how you smiled; you never smiled that way for me, for her it was a crooked one-sided grin, a caricatured reflection of her thousand watt beam. This morning the room especially held the nauseating rank of medicine, now that her coming around had chased the stench of death away, my skin was itchy and I had just finished talking on the phone with your employer who wanted to know when you will resume work at the factory and she called to me from your bedside –isn’t it a beautiful morning? Once she left I told you I had a special secret. You smiled and for a moment I thought it looked like the one you gave her. But it didn’t. It lacked the crooked edge. I raised you up. Told you the Doctor’s report I stole a peak from the previous night said you was physically fit to walk. You didn’t believe me. I told you there was only one way to find out.
It was Saturday and so all hospital staff had gathered on the ground floor to watch soccer. Lifted you up from the bed I did and you groaned in pain. I took a morphine injection on the tray beside the bed. It was to prepare you for an operation later in the day. After the fluid settled in your body, you said you were ready. Good. Now stand up on your own.
You cried into my arms. I reminded you I had something to show you. Led you out of the room, unto the corridor. You got apprehensive at the stairs, didn’t want to kill your new found joy. I told you what you couldn’t conquer will conquer you. We were on the top floor in no time. Climbed up the stairs to the door that led to the flat-roof, an outside of sorts. You let out a whoop of excitement. It had been four months since last you was out in the sun, it made you so happy remember? I tasted it with you, the naked sunlight, the hot sanctifying air, the hum of everyday city life three floors below. You rushed to the lean on the short parapet wall to watch. What did you see? Joined you, to watch you watch the swarming silhouettes of people roaming the streets, about each other’s business, never stopping to say hello. Then with the suddenness that this kind of things happen, two cars collided into themselves, the sound of the crash floating up in a dull yet palpable sound that momentarily pulled us down to it, the pull born in that moment of surprise, that moment of stupefaction.
I wasn’t alarmed when you lost balance and went over the small parapet wall. I was alarmed when your feet didn’t go over with you, briefly wedged by the wall; I was alarmed at the cry for help. In a flash your feet was in my clumsy grasp, up to my breast in my fervent effort, human instinct I guess. But as you know we have these flashes of clarity, if we are lucky these flashes bring glimpses of the future. I knew I lost you the moment Susanna swooped down on your hospital bed smothering you with watermelons, apples, carrots and care, I a shadow at the corner of the room gnawing my nails with each precious breathe you took, each breathe that snatched you farther from death, she a rose, blossoming before you in the sunlight that filtered in through the white-paper window curtains. I knew I’d lost you then, that’s why I had to let you go.
TJ Benson is a Nigerian short story writer and creative photographer whose works have appeared in Online and Print Journals like Munyori Journal, Kalahari Review, Paragram Uk, Sentinel Magazine, Contemporary Literary Review India, and more recently, Transition Magazine.
You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at @tjbensonng.