It was all darkness around Elizabeth.
The fear of death gripped her. Did mama and Papa feel this way on their deathbed? Hopelessness and senselessness of life! The memory of her mum curled her lips into a smile. Oh, sweet mama. Life
was good growing up with her. But why did she lie to Elizabeth? That life was good. That she, little Liz, would be whatever she wanted to be in life so long as she believed and asked God for it. So
long ago—she was eight, yet how recent it seemed. Elizabeth remembered that day vividly. She was lying on her stomach, crushing ants with the tip of her fingers on the clean white tiles of the
kitchen floor. Katelyn was standing at the sink, washing utensils. Mama was making them their favorite pumpkin soup as she talked to them. If only Elizabeth could turn back the hand of time! But
the pain in her side roused her to her current predicament—bedridden, dying... She inhaled some morphine. What was the meaning of life?
Of course, she’d always known about death. And yes, she’d seen people close to her die—her parents, Katelyn’s infant baby, their epileptic uncle who’d suffocated during a seizure… But, much as she
knew she’d one-day die, that was to happen way later when she’d be toothless—just like Mama said. If life began at forty, how could hers end at thirty-eight? She still had children to
raise—seven-year-old David and little four-year-old Carol.
“Damn it,” she groaned, unable to find a comfortable position. Both sides of her body ached.
Both sides of her body ached because of prolonged hours of sleeping.
“Please turn me this way,” she’d say and a few minutes later, “Oh, no… that side hurts, make me sleep on my back…”
Asking for help had become tiring. Nonetheless, she decided to ring the bell, but before she could, the doorbell chimed. On the couch, Ambrose jerked from his sleep, rubbed his eyes, then
rushed to the door.
“Good morning, thanks for coming,” said Ambrose. The sound of back-slaps and murmured greetings rent in the air.
Even without seeing her, Elizabeth recognized the familiar scent of Martha’s expensive perfume. She turned her head toward Martha, who’d stopped at her bedside with a bouquet of fresh roses.
Martha, looking younger than ever since her face-lift, put the flowers in a vase. Elizabeth, whose own looks were wasting away, couldn’t help but be envious.
“No mirrors,” she’d snapped at Ambrose. “I don’t want to see how I look now.”
A lump caught in her throat. Why me?
Behind Martha stood Dan, Katelyn and Justin, both wearing dour expressions.
“Can she talk?” Martha whispered, looking askance at Elizabeth and arranging the flowers neatly on the bedside.
“Yes, she can… Hey Liz, see who’s here.” Katelyn ran a finger on the side of Elizabeth’s face. “I’m sure you’ll be up to your old tricks again in no time.”
Elizabeth tried to sit, but failed. She choked back a whimper over her weakness.
“Oh, I got you.” Katelyn pulled her up by the shoulders.
She groaned at the pain. “P—please... put... put me back.”
“Use the knob on the side,” said Ambrose. Not understanding him, Katelyn made space and Ambrose stepped forward, twisted a knob and the bed slanted slightly upright. “Is that position okay?”
“Yes, thanks,” said Elizabeth, panting.
“Hope you feel a little better now,” said Martha, straightening her miniskirt. “I know you, and I know you’ll beat this.”
Elizabeth raised her gaze on the IV drip. “The pain is on and off, but quite manageable now…”
Why had death chosen her? Elizabeth had tried to live a good life—a faithful wife, caring mother, a friend to everyone… Could life be this unfair? Yes, just like she’d crush the ants on
the clean white tiles in her mother’s kitchen floor as a pastime, death was doing the same. Crushing her for no good reason—Just a pastime.
Dan stepped back and sat on the couch, tears in his eyes. “Sorry… excuse me….”
He’d once spoken of his wife’s passing. Like everyone else, Elizabeth had consoled him with the usual clichés--‘sorry’, ‘it’ll be fine’, ‘she’s now in heaven’--and changed the topic. It was a day
of barbeque, and talking about the deceased would have spoiled the merriment. Now, looking at Dan on the couch, Elizabeth reckoned she must remind him of his loss.
“Are you okay, bro?” asked Ambrose, placing a hand on Dan’s shoulder.
“Take heart. I’ve been in your position and know how it feels.” Dan clasped Ambrose's hands. “Like a voyager who sets out on a journey, so is our life. While aboard the ship, we dull our minds from
the dangers of the sea with alcohol, sports, music, sex, food…. Day and night, we make merry and forget we’re on a journey. Before we know it, the ship docks, cutting short our funfair…”
Tears welled in Ambrose’s eyes. “Man, what’s the meaning of life? To be born and to die. That’s it?”
“We need to be positive for her,” said Justin, bringing the two gentlemen to the bedside.
Elizabeth had been trying to suffocate the reality she was dying with self-encouragement. At some point, she’d even giggled, remembering how she’d argued with Ambrose over something as petty as
replacing their worn-out curtains. But, seeing Dan in tears, her hope of living vanished.
She closed her eyes to suppress tears. Everything had happened so fast though there were signs which she’d ignored. Maybe it’d been different if she’d sought medical attention early.
A nurse wearing gloves and a mask arrived, and Elizabeth cowered. She knew why the nurse had come. To imagine that someone else would clean her poo, see her nakedness…. how terrible!
“Please excuse us for about ten minutes,” said the nurse and Ambrose walked out with the guests.
The nurse pulled up the gloves and adjusted the mask over her nose. “Ma’am, I’m sure it won’t be long till you’re out of here.” She leaned over. “Time to freshen up, may I?”
She lay helpless as the nurse worked. But she was happy to be relieved of her friends’ pretense. Going over her head how uncomfortable they’d been around her, she realized they came to visit just
out of propriety. A burden she’d become… The more reason she was grateful when Katelyn remained behind.
“It’s just for a little while and you’ll be out of here,” said Katelyn, lifting Elizabeth up as the nurse replaced the pillowcase.
The genuine comfort Elizabeth got was from the nurse cleaning her. On a normal day, she wouldn’t have cared for such junior staff doing this most disgusting job. She’d done it for her kids
when they were in diapers themselves. But now, she considered the nurse’s job even more important.
When the nurse lifted her legs to wipe her bum, Elizabeth beheld her nakedness, weak and thin thighs, the skin drooping from them. She shuddered. “Wait….”
Her mouth twitched uncontrollably, and with difficulty, she spoke. “Do you think I’ll ever get to my feet again? Have you cared for someone sick like me who recovered?”
Katelyn couldn’t hide her tears anymore. She embraced her sister. “Of course you’ll recover.”
“Yes, I’ve seen worst cases who’ve recovered,” said the nurse.
Elizabeth absorbed their positivity, as forced as it seemed. “Oh? You think I’ll get well?”
“Yes, ma’am, if you take your medicine.” After a brief pause, the nurse added. “But we shall all die at some point.”
Elizabeth looked at her and was happy, at least there was someone who could look her in the face and tell her the truth—that it was okay to die.
“Just call me Liz,” she said.
The nurse giggled and resumed her work. “Okay, Liz.” She signaled Katelyn to lift Elizabeth’s leg as she replaced her diapers.
The nurse carried her work with such simplicity and joy, with a smile that never left her face, and this left Elizabeth in awe. “Sorry for the trouble,” said Elizabeth. “I’m helpless.”
“Not at all, ma’am—uh, Liz. You’re sick and it’s understandable you’d do the same in my position.”
Elizabeth doubted she could do so, but felt only the nurse genuinely pitied her and wasn’t bothered by her sickness. She didn’t doubt Katelyn’s good intentions, but saw how her sister struggled to
look at her. Before falling ill, Elizabeth had been part of the Christmas arrangements. How they’d planned to make it big this time—traveling with their families to the beach on the Island… She
hated her sickness came in the way of these plans.
“Don’t change any plans for me. Go have fun on the beach with the kids,” she said.
“That’ll not happen unless you’re out of the hospital by Christmas.” Katelyn focused her gaze on the thermos standing on the stool. “May I pour you some tea?”
“Yes, please, just a little.”
“Okay, they can now come in,” said the nurse.
For a moment, Elizabeth had forgotten the torments of her illness, thanks to the positive energy from the nurse. The brightness in her face died at the thought of Martha, Dan… coming back into the
room. Finding no covert way to keep the nurse a little longer, she became candid with her. “No, wait… don’t call them as yet. Please stay a bit. Do you have any urgent work at the moment?”
“Not really… I got to do some charting, but I’m gonna do it later.”
Elizabeth scratched her scalp, and a bunch of hair remained in her hand. “Oh, no… look at this.” She gasped, horror-stricken with her mouth wide open. She held out the locks of hair to Katelyn and
the nurse. “Will I ever recover? Maybe it’s true I’m dying.”
“Yes. You will recover,” said Katelyn.
Though she’d earlier on decided not to ever look herself in the mirror, curiosity got the better of Elizabeth. “Give me the mirror.”
“Nothing to worry about ma’am… Liz…. it’s the normal side effect of chemo.” The nurse handed her the mirror.
Elizabeth pressed it on her chest, afraid to look at herself. Just then, the doorbell rang, and the doctor came in. “Hey, how are you feeling?”
“Doc, is all these necessary? My hair is already falling off.”
“It’s the normal side effect of chemo. You’ve shown some improvement and yes, it’s essential for you to take your meds.”
After doing some checkups, the doctor left with the nurse, but Elizabeth still asked Katelyn not to call anyone else in. “Is it true God exists?” She clung to her sister’s hand.
“Yes, he does.”
“Why do they say he’s loving and wouldn’t deny us anything we ask for? I’ve been asking him for healing, but I get worse by the day.”
“Um… I know it’s tough honey, but... we - we can’t question God. He knows what’s best… I believe he’ll heal you.”
I’ve heard these clichés before. Just shut up.
“You may call them,” said Elizabeth, and fixed her gaze on the ceiling.
Ambrose’s chuckle as he chatted with Justin at the door irritated her. With Katelyn staying overnight, Elizabeth knew they were planning to go drown their sorrows.
“Hey, Hun… how are you feeling now?” asked Ambrose, kissing her hand.
Elizabeth felt he asked not out of concern as it was out of politeness and decency—just for the sake of asking. She hated him for this. She didn’t answer but instead, broke down and wept at
the cruelty of life… God… her friends, her helplessness….
She thought of the uselessness of life and regretted what had preoccupied her life—making money, acquiring property, working on her looks… why was she even clinging to this life? And she longed for
death to consume her and put an end to the mental strain she was undergoing.
But something within her refused to give in. Life couldn’t be that senseless. There must be something she didn’t understand.
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