You remember the conversation on the other side of the cream-coloured curtains between a nervous wife and a helpless husband: one in pain she has never experienced before, her first day in the battle against a disease that threatens to break your mind before it breaks your body, and the other, eager to be of some use to his wife, to comfort her and hold her hand, wishing with all his might that it were enough to help her, to heal her.. to fix her. There was argument. There were tears. There was pleading. She told him that she would never understand the pain she was in, the torment that was wrecked in her body. He tried to reason with her and failing to do so, impatient, left her bedside. You sat quietly in your chair on your side of the curtains. You wished you would walk up behind the husband, tell him things, bits and pieces of advice for the journey he’s about to begin. You didn’t.
I woke up yesterday, earlier than necessary, with eyes still bearing traces of kohl and my mind still reeling with the giddying amount of excesses that I witnessed the night before. There were violins played and, LED lights woven along the edges of silver frocks and rainbow-coloured wings worn by those who ushered the joda in; a perennial rattle of jewelry and more number of things to eat than the number of guests. I remember the transparent plastic gloves on the hands of the servers and the waiters. I remember the downcast eyes of each one of them. I remember thinking about the lottery of birth and blood. I’m still thinking about it. I remember the judgement in his eyes as he took in the supposed blandness of my clothes: a navy blue turtleneck sweater, jeans and sneakers. I remember the rush of blood to my face when he shoved me forward to the dais, alone, to present the wedding gift to the joda: a couple of people I had never seen before in my life nor did I plan to ever see again. I remember cursing under my breath about gender roles and how I was supposed to function, without consent, as a replacement for her in playing them for this sanctimonious society. I remember leaving the banquet hall with a greater distaste for the needless expenses.
You remember the transparent plastic gloves: how they were surprisingly wrinkle-free. You remember how each one, sanitized and germ-free, cost him a bomb; so you would manipulate your right hand into doing the job that required ambidextrous skills. You would swab the stitches that linearly ran (the surgical precision of it both impressive and troubling) from above her chest to below her pelvis with a square piece of Betadine-soaked cotton gauze. She would wince and ask you to go slower and gentler, a single tear leaking from her right eye; you would stifle a sigh before calmly reassuring her that it was necessary or at least that was what the nurse at the hospital had told you; you’d tell her that it’ll get better and that she’ll be better meanwhile wondering how much belief you held in your own words. You would not flinch as you would see the thick stitches – how they seemed to be the only thing binding her lateral halves together, vaguely reminding you of how she would bind loose sheets into notebooks for your brother and you when you were younger, a lot younger – and the hole in her lower pelvis that looked two inches deep, revealing her abdominal organs or whatever was left of them, a crimson kind of pink in colour. You would glare at the second pair of hands that would be present in the room to assist you, how they’d tremble and shake, further causing her to be anxious. You would glare at them and will them into a composed countenance. What it is it about chaos that reaches inside of you and completely empties you of disquiet?
I woke up today, exactly when necessary, with eyes puffed from the inadequate hours of sleep and mind entranced by Ludovico Einaudi’s Divenire. I remember the exhilaration that it filled my lungs with and the humility that it filled my heart with. I remember the disquieting ambivalent feelings, the concrete, the steel and the unasked questions. I remember the inability to articulate and the consequent rush of blood to my face, lachrymose. I remember thinking of the lists, the food, the places, the books, the stars, the tents, the friends, the lives, the stories and a Dill Harris. I’m still thinking about it/them. I remember the gratitude muted with sighs, the wavering resolve and the rehashing of the three-point bucket list due summer. I remember counting days till summer, awaiting the taste of life on the other side. I remember finishing a packet of biscuits and wishing there was some hot tea to go with it. I remember reliving in my head the salt in the sea breeze, the stickiness that it leaves your skin with, the blue of the Arabian Sea and the white of the sand in the beach, with tall coconut trees behind and quietly crashing waves ahead. I remember smelling the book I had been reading, childishly wishing that doing so would forever imprint the words in my head, that there wouldn’t be a book-shaped hole in my heart as time passed and as I lost the words but retained the feelings.
“Is it a good life, Daddy?” Nkiru has taken to asking lately on the phone, with that faint, vaguely troubling American accent. It is not good or bad, I tell her, it is simply mine. And that is what matters.