Part 1 of 2
I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye.
It haunts me down to this day. It may haunt me forever. An obdurate shadow at the back of my mind. A castaway shackled in a closed-off room in my heart.
I remember coaxing her once lustrous hair, now a dry and damaged mop, to one side so I could kiss her warm forehead. It used to be warmer. I tell her to be strong.
“I’ll be back in a few hours.”
There’s no answer. There are no sounds other than the faint beeps of a heart monitor and her tired and troubled breathing. I pause to take her in. Vacant washed-out globes had replaced the eyes that once had been full of life, love, and wanderlust. Shallow breaths from her chapped lips. Yellow and pale taking over the vibrant pink in her skin. Her hands twitching from unknowable pain. For a second it courses through me as well. Strings are pulled inside me. I wince. I reach for her hand and envelop it with both of mine. She must have used all the strength she had left when she lightly held on to my hands. It takes all of my own strength to keep from crying.
A voice inside says I can’t leave. I mustn’t, my heart commands. My mind protests. It asks that I keep it from drowning in exhaustion. It tells me that my muscles are aching, my eyes tearing, my eyelids heavy, my appetite all but gone. My body needed sleep. I didn’t want it. It craved for any nourishment. I didn’t need food. It threatened collapse. Soon, I assured it. It took some pleading from my worn out mother for me to give in. I left on the condition that I return as soon as I’ve logged in six hours of sleep. I let go of my sister’s hand.
I stop at the door so I can look back one last time. A memory of buying her ice cream and the smile from her that follows flashes in front of me. For a moment I could even smell the frozen butterscotch – her favourite flavour – and hear the sound of her surprised laughter. The memory entranced me until a doctor and a nurse walked through the open door. The commotion pulls me back to reality. Another routine check-up, I think to myself. I thought wrong. But I didn’t know then. I didn’t know that was the last time I’d see her alive, or whatever level of consciousness she still held on to. I didn’t know.
So I left. I left wondering where I could get a tub of butterscotch to bring back to her. I arrived home, walked straight to my room and fell into bed.
Next thing I hear is my phone ringing. It’s Mum. Must have left something at the hospital, I thought to myself. Wrong again. I glance at the clock. Fifteen minutes done of the required 360. My mother tells me simply, in her drained voice, that I should return. The reason I chalked up to some quick errand that needed running. I’ve been running errands in and out of different hospitals for several months now. Sadly, I was again mistaken.
I readied myself and went straight back.
I ran into an aunt at the entrance to the ward section, exchanged weary greetings, and walked with her to my sister’s room.
I don’t remember who opened the door. I don’t remember what I was thinking or saying at that moment. I don’t remember how the world seemed to stop spinning.
I do remember a sound. When time stood still and the world fell deafeningly silent there was a sound. A sound like that of a speeding train – horn blaring, passengers screaming – hitting an ice wall at deathly speed. I remember what I saw. I will never forget.
In the bed where my sister had been now lay a body wrapped in bandages. I run.
I suppose I’ve always expected…dreaded that it would happen. It was cancer, after all. The big C. It was only a matter of time. I always thought i’d be there though. I wanted, needed to be there in those final moments. Until then I’d been continuously hoping I would be. Now, I just wish I had been. But I wasn’t.
So I ran. I didn’t want to cry. I ran instead. Maybe I ran to get her her tub of butterscotch…hoping…praying it might not be too late for just that. Maybe I ran because I wanted to escape a nightmare and I needed to wake up. I’d wake up back home, see that six hours have passed and I could finally return to my sister’s side.
Before I got too far my aunt reached out and held tight, effectively shattering any hope that this was all just dark dream. She hauled me back into the room. The energy, that would have fuelled my now useless legs for escape, vied for release and searched frantically for another outlet. It found my lungs and empowered that instead. It fuelled my throat, my vocal cords, my eyes,my tear glands. I wailed.
After that, everything seemed to blur. A vaguely recall people talking at me, holding me, trying to calm me down. I couldn’t see, hear, smell, nor taste. I only felt a void, a vacuum of sense and emotion. I felt the abyss of failure. I wanted to be strong for her…for my parents. I was the complete opposite. I collapsed like a house of cards to the wind.
Next thing I can recall is leaving the hospital and entering a world darker than it was a few hours ago. It was also late in the day. The sun may have risen the next day but for some months to come, it stayed dark…
(To be concluded)