J P RICHARD
An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Steamships Short Story Award
I AM SO COLD AND AFRAID, alone and lonely. It is silent now, no wind blowing, the hospital room is dull and depressing. I can see the head doctor to my right side, his ID card reads-Dr. Noreo, looking intently at the electrocardiogram monitor, a worried look on his unshaven face.
Beep-beep-beep, the electrocardiogram tracking the pattern of my heart beat. Sitting at his side is my mother, looking older and beautiful, I can see that she had been crying, her eyes puffy, she keeps sniffing while paying attention to Dr Noreo explaining the electrocardiogram patterns to her which obviously is not good news at all; my heart will give in anytime now and death is inevitable. Mother couldn’t bear the thought so she keeps praying silently and hoping that the pattern would improve.
As I lay dying, I think of my beloved husband-Peku Jontei, I miss him and I need to see him right at this moment. I am bored of sleeping in this dying room so I decide to go for a little walk; I hope Dr. Noreo and mother wouldn’t mind. I slowly rise up and pull down the sheet. I am dressed in a clean sky-blue pair of hospital gown. I silently swing my legs to the opposite side from them and step onto the floor.
Brrr, my bare feet absorbing the cold tiles, I feel so light. My tummy is flat-oh wait, my baby! Where is it? I remember following the nurse who delivered my baby via caesarian section and took it into the nursery. So I walk down the hallway, turn left, follow another hallway, approach the nursery and enter. I tip-toe to a crib and see it, see her, a beautiful baby girl. Oh how beautiful she is, wiggling her toes and balling her little fist at me. I smile and lean over the crib.
“You will grow up to become so pretty and having the strength of your daddy. I will protect you with my life.” I kiss her on the forehead, linger around for a while admiring her then leave the room.
The hallway become dull, everything is in grey, no colors, no life. I can hear the agonizing voices of the PMV truck accident victims moaning for me to join them in the afterlife. The truck accident is why I’m lying in there dying. I was fully pregnant on the verge of giving birth, labor pain engulfed my body and travelling on that dammed truck three days ago when the accident took place. It was awful as if labor pain wasn’t enough for me to die from, the accident…I let the thought trail. Well not just yet, I have to see my husband.
I plod on, down another hallway, out the door and enter the intensive care unit-Peku is in here. I come to a small room and when I look into the glass window, I can see Peku there; his head heavily bandaged, his face bruised but visible, his right leg plus both hands are in a cast. I fight back tears when I see my husband in that shape. I enter the door and Peku senses me for he opens his eyes and smiles laboriously at me. I smile back and stand at his side. We stare at each other for a full minute then I break the silence.
“Daddy, you look like a wreck,” I smile with my hands reaching and touching Peku’s casted hand. I know he wouldn’t be able to feel my touch.
“I’ll live, now that I see that you’re well and alive,” Peku grimaces and tries to maneuver so he can look at me. “Vina my love, you look pale and frail but so pretty and so, so...oh my lord, where is my baby?”
I want to tell him that I am not ok but I just can’t do it, I can’t bear to make him stress out even more than what he is now. I smile even broader and announce, “Oh our baby is fine and it’s a lovely little girl, congratulations.”
Peku sighs with a little shuddering. The room temperature seems to have dropped dramatically. “Baby I’m proud of you; you’re stronger than most girls I know of. So what happened to you?”
“Well when the collision occurred, I was thrown against the head of the truck. My spine was crushed, paralyzing me from head to toe, my heart was beating slowly, I lost a lot of blood, I was unconscious when they wheeled me in and I had a placental abruption.” I force myself to look Peku in the eyes when I say these words.
“Oh my god!” is his initial shock response. “What happened? How did you…they deliver the baby?”
“With those clinical difficulties, the only delivery option is through the caesarean section, the C-section in short.” Upon his confuse frown I add, “C-section is a surgical procedure in which one or more incisions are made through a mother's tummy and uterus to deliver the baby-and yes the procedure was a success.”
“Sweet mother of god, honey that is...” Peku cannot finish the sentence; he turns paler than me and looks sick. He gulps down his pain and stares straight up at the ceiling, his eyes moisten.
I try to make amends with a sincere smile, “She will grow bigger, stronger and beautiful, and she will make you proud.” I can see color starting to appear on his cheek as a shy smile plays across his quivering bruised lips.
“What happened to me? I can’t remember anything,” Peku tries to heave himself up but slumps back in pain.
“Slow it down honey. They found your unconscious body under the smashed hood of the truck, luckily it didn’t crush you.” Gesturing at his hands and leg I add, “With these fractures, right leg, both hands and a nasty head injury with severe concussion. It’s been three days today.”
“I was traumatized for three days? Wow!” Peku shakes his head only to make his head ache more. “I’m so sorry my love, it’s my entire fault. I should have been more prepared as an expected father but I screwed up.”
“Hush, my love, you were too young to understand-we were too young to face it when we rushed into this stage of life but the worst is over now; you are alive and so is our baby.” I want to hold him in my hand and assure him that everything will be ok.
“Hang on a second, bu-but I don’t understand, you-you’re here with me, looking so fresh and every bit fine.” He stammers with a hint of uncertainty and suspicion echoing in his voice. “How did you get healed so fast?”
Oops. I can’t tell my husband, not now; he will figure it out when I leave. “Ssshh, I’m ok, I’m happy our baby is alive and I’ll be fine, and that’s all you need to know. Don’t stress yourself. “
Peku, still confuse, relaxes nonetheless. “We’re a family now, a new circle of life. Not a great start but it sure is a cemented start,” he nods at his hands at the word ‘cemented’ and steals a weak smile.
I respond to his smile and shake my head, tears rolling down my cheeks, “I’m gonna miss you daddy. I want you to know that I love you and I will always do. Get some rest ok?”
With that I fight the urge to touch and kiss him. I say goodbye and slowly turn and sway out of Peku’s room heading towards mine. I enter my room and see Dr. Noreo and mother looking even graver. I climb onto my bed and rest upon me.
Now as I lay dying, I am satisfied, I am at peace at last. I remember how it all started.
It was Sunday early morning when the labor pain started. Peku and I left our house at Nawaeb compound in Lae and dragged to Angau Memorial Hospital. On arrival, the nurse at the delivery ward wouldn’t allow us to get in without a mother’s clinical card or K100.00 for a new one. I left my clinical card at my mother’s house up at Situm, 17 miles from Angau and Peku and I had no money except a K10.00. Was she kidding, with my urgency she wouldn’t let us in? Just one step through the door would have altered history.
I cried and when I looked at Peku, he tried to fight his own anguish tears back and kept screaming at the nurse to let us in. The hospital guards came and ushered us out of the hospital, can you believe that? Then a desolated Peku dragged me all the way up the hill to top town where we got on a Bumayong bus and started bouncing on the famous pot-holed Lae city roads up, I swear I felt the baby’s head right there. From Bumayong we struggled onto another PMV truck heading for Situm and off we drove.
But just as the truck full of passengers crossed the Busu river bridge and started easing up the mountain, the unthinkable happened. A brand-new Toyota land cruiser sped down the slope out of nowhere and collided with our truck-a sickening boom, a hailstorm of shattered glasses, fireworks of flying people, a roller coaster crash and roll of the truck down Busu bank and everything went blank…
Now I close my eyes and let out a sigh, my heart stops beating-giving up my soul. In the dying eight seconds, I say a little prayer in my head; ‘God I’m coming home, take care of my family.’
Dr. Noreo stares one last time at the electrocardiogram monitor and bows his head in defeat when the beeping stops and the lines go straight. Vina’s mother starts crying; she caresses her daughter’s hands and weep silently, tears of dread streaming down her face. Her husband had left her in death three years ago and now her one daughter is gone too. She breaks down and cries, shedding sad, hopeless tears that only God can understand.
After a while Dr. Noreo leaves Vina’s room and makes his way to Peku’s. He enters and Peku rotates his head towards him.
The look on Dr. Noreo’s face unsettles Peku, he knows something is wrong.
“I’m sorry Mr. Jontei, I’m afraid your wife was not able to make it, she’s gone.” Dr Noreo tries to maintain eye contact and keeps a steady matter-of-fact voice.
“What? Peku shouts in alarm. “But she just came in and talked with me. She said she is fine, she looked fine and…”
“I’m sorry Vina couldn’t make it, she was practically pronounced dead on arrival when they retrieved the victims from the crash site. Amazingly her weak heart kept her going for three days before she gave in. We kept 24-hour surveillance on her, there’s no way she could have left her room without me or my people knowing.”
“But that’s impossible; I just talked with her a minute ago, we…”
Suddenly, realization hits Peku in the face and everything comes into focus. Dead on arrival, c-section delivery, frail body almost lifeless, pale color skin, cold room temperature…
Peku starts crying silently, Vina was right here with him-in spirit. He understands now; as she lay dying, her spirit was still strong, believing, holding on, waiting for him to emerge from the comma so she could see him, talk to him, assure him one last time before she goes. He believes in every word she said. He turns his head away from the doctor, stares at the wall and with tears streaming down his face, he whispers, ‘I love you too, always and forever.’
Peku closes his eyes and rests.
(The story was inspired by my younger brother and his lovely wife who just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl-Charlotte-despite the imminent challenges. The truck never crashed, it was a near-miss incident, could have been the unthinkable – jpr)