Cancer on a Blue Thursday
Your father, with a dagger deeply planted in his heart, must have died in great pain. How would you want to die?
How old were you when you saw your first corpse? Do you remember? Was it an already washed and dressed carcass, complete with the deodorant meant to betray the smell of decay – or, was it death experienced at its most brutal form?
My father, divorced from my mother, died in a backstreet speakeasy with cheap gin bottles around his corpse, half buried in the mud and puke and filth of his delayed demise. When we arrived at the scene, my mother and I, the cigarette between his lifeless fingers still burnt, letting out ghostly spiral clouds of smoke – his soiled soul. He was stark naked, with a few inches of the handle of a dagger sticking out of his left chest.
I was eight. It was bloody. My father’s body.
Your first experience with Death – your father’s – did it change your perception of Life?
My father was absent from my life. I had already therefore perceived life as the absenteeism of a father – of men. The memories I have of him were of the few nights he would stagger home to puke in the dishes and piss on the floor. I remember how I would painfully strain to hear his words – even a single syllable that I would wear like a pendant – but his voice was always somewhere afar. Drowned in the thunder of my mother’s wails. Most nights I slept, their shouting and fighting numbing my eyes. I woke up the following morning to his puke, baked on the dirty dishes and – the cigarette butts littering the floor.
When he died, like the setting of a scorching sun, my mother who had wilted in spirit and withered in body – bloomed. She grew plump and beautiful. Her cheeks bulged so much that whenever she smiled, her eyes disappeared in the puffy dough that was her bubbly face. She taught herself how to laugh again. At first, her chest would ache. Laughter was her pain. Gradually, she could laugh and cry in her own happiness.
Thence, it taught me that at times – most times actually – we need the death of others to nourish the lives of some.
Trying to remember your father, do you recall the last time you saw him alive? His words?
My father’s body was found on a Saturday morning. On Tuesday of that week, he had come home in his routine stupor, sunk on the only chair in the house and fished a stick of cigarette from his breast pocket. Dunhill. His favourite brand. His hands were shaky. Every time he tried to lift the BIC lighter; they both fell. The lighter and the hand. It was an embarrassing scene. I opted to help him. Lifted the lighter closer to the tip of the cigarette. With my thumb, I rolled the spark-wheel down into the ignition button. I saw a flame. That must have been the first fire I ever lit, before the many I did years later.
Quickly, it waned. The flame. I’d not learnt the art of keeping it ablaze. Anyone can light a fire, but it takes mastered skill to keep it burning. My father taught me to spark the lighter and hold down the ignition button to keep the gas flowing. To keep the fire burning. That was the last lesson he taught me – lighting fires and keeping them burning. Holding down the ignition button. Forte.
He took a long uninterrupted draw and the stick glowed. Still holding the cigarette in his mouth, he let out a long stream of smoke and sighed with satisfaction. With that stick of cigarette still held between his lips, he – my father – faintly said, “Something is got to kill a man.”
Something is got to kill a man – those were my father’s last words. I won’t claim those words were said to me. No. He was speaking much to himself than to me. Four days later, Saturday, his lifeless body was found lying in the mud and chaos of Death.
So, your father died from your eyes on a Tuesday and from your lives on a Saturday. Given a choice, when would you want to die? And why?
Most people die before they even live. There are so many corpses walking the streets. I don’t want to die many times, like cowards do, before my actual death. I want my death to be one big and grand fall. On a Thursday noon. In December.
I want to die when it is all merry. I want my friends to have all the reasons not to go for their boring duties on Friday. No one loves Friday at the construction site. The crane driver is often tired and sleepy from lack of sleep and lots of drinking all week through. He would without cares drop stones and cement on the heads of the workers, crippling if not killing them. I want my death to be the reason someone doesn’t report to work, on a Friday, delaying their inevitable death by a downpour of ballast. I want them to stay home and grieve during the day and with the fall of twilight, I want them to go drink and skunk – tossing bottles, shaking bums, knocking glasses, shagging and screaming to a life well wasted.
My father died on a Saturday. The following day was a Sunday and we dressed for church. Our church clothes, though clean, had faded from over-washing. For once, no one turned to look at us. No one whispered anything to another. Everyone was hugging and kissing us. Even the untouchable Man of God descended from his ivory tower, to hug my mother. It was a sad scene. Everyone was crying. I didn’t know what else to do. I cried. I remembered my broken dolls and cried some more. Finally, it seemed my mother had become visible to the church – to the world. The towering curtain of my father had fallen, exposing my mother to the realities around.
The service was about us. My dead father. They said he had been called by God. That, God only chose the best. They said my mother must be strong. That, we will all reunite someday. Reunite? Euphemism. We will all die and rot! Did they even know the two had long divorced?
Stranger after another rose to say something. Read a scripture. Quoted a verse. They called my mother a Widow. I heard Window and smiled. Of course, she was the window – the only one – that had shed light into my dark, dank world of insatiable want. Mothers are the windows through which we see the outside chaos from a serene inside.
They called me Orphan. I heard Oprah and I smiled some more. I was going to be a famous, big and black girl.
‘She is a strange child.’ they must have muttered.
I didn’t love my name Claire. It belonged to a beautiful past that my mother talked about with tears in her voice and sorrow in her eyes. Back when I was their bundle of beauty, before my father found us an unbearable burden and left. I wanted to be an Oprah. Like the big, black girl I saw on TV, who called herself a butterfly with wings of steel. I wanted to be soft but strong.
Opposite the church, at Wazalendo Bar and Restaurant, the revelers were dancing to my father’s death. They had set a soapbox outside the pub with two big speakers that produced a horrible sound, like the coughing of a broken jukebox. There was someone shouting from a microphone. He was calling people to come and drink and sin and find that something that got to kill a man. The beer prices had been halved and the hookers were not asking for a penny. All products and services were discounted. They were mourning one of their own. The drunks staggered the streets like zombies. They shattered bottles of cheap liquor on the tarmac and spat into the open sewers. The barmaids, who also doubled as prostitutes, tore their already short skirts. They yanked their brassieres in public, letting the melons of their breasts roll into the streets to mingle with the tears of other mourners. They shouted profanities and exposed their ugly, private parts.
“We are the living and our business is with life!” they chorused. This herd of the world’s wretched.
The business of life must be a filthy one, I thought.
In church, there was a deep melancholy. Some sorrow you could see in the stooping shoulders and fallen necks. People stood to pledge and promise this and that. Their words were dead – like my father. And their mouths carried the bad smell of an exhumed grave.
Outside, on the small makeshift podium erected at the verandah of the bar, was a table. On it was a huge bowl. The speaker was shouting to passersby and bystanders to drop a coin or two – anything. Funeral contribution towards giving my dead father a descent sendoff. His pictures were mounted everywhere on the speakers and at the door of the bar. In church, we were fed hope in beautiful words.
I want to die on a Thursday. The last Thursday of any December.
Your father, he died in the trenches. Or rather, was picked there. Where would you want to die?
My father not only died in the trenches, he lived in them. We did. All our lives. Everyone does. Everybody is always deep into some trenches. Even the clean shaven, eight-to-four guys in suits and shiny shoes. Ask them. They are into some sludge. Drugs. Loan. Divorce…
Life is a constant struggle to keep our heads above the shit and piss of society. This world is nothing but a cesspool whirling endlessly in a vast void. We’re constantly tossed from one pain to another. There is some emptiness in the perfection we so pursue, an emptiness so deep we only feel it in the silent spaces between seconds. I don’t want to die in this mess of time and space.
I want to die at a deserted cemetery. Where there is no time and no chaos. Just abandoned graves with their fallen crucifixes and broken headstones.
A lot of what you saw of your father’s remains were dirt and mud covering his flesh. If the dead had one colour to gaze at forever, which colour would you choose for yourself?
Whenever we close our eyes, what we first see is black. When we begin to think about it, we can see any colour we perceive. That is Death. Foremost, it is a dark, empty space. But when we let it grow in us, we can begin to view it as a colourful experience.
I want to see blue till the end of time. Blue intoxicates the moving parts of time, crippling it to a halt. Blue is the endless expanse that is a clear sky or the ocean – where dreams can fly and swim without distraction. Blue is the sweet hangover after a night of old wine and youthful sex.
Blue is everything and nothing I will miss about life.
The old man, your father, you said he died his stick of cigarette still in hand. What would you want to die holding?
Something is got to kill a man. My father found his death rolled in the tobacco of cigarette sticks. He smoked religiously, like one opening doors for souls trapped in the cigarettes. Souls that glided away, smoothly in smoke, to be one with the emptiness that is air.
I want to die holding a stick of his favourite Dunhill.
You see, cigarettes have warmed my heart when love left me cold. Cigarettes have helped me speak in spirals of smoke, where words would have hurt. Cigarettes have lit my paths when dusks were dark and dreary. Cigarettes have given my fingers something to hold when no one wanted to hold me. I want to die holding one – and, in addition, bury me in an ashtray! What more are coffins if not ashtrays where we dump the ash, debris and cigarette-butts of men who’ve lived, lit the world and died?
Your father, with a dagger deeply planted in his heart, must have died in great pain. How would you want to die?
With twelve inches of pain driven inside my chest, that is how I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die like my father. This body I have laboured to nourish with pills and promises, lotions and luck – this body – can’t just be pierced to death!
I want a slow death. Slow and painful.
I want to watch the earth of my flesh eroded by the rains of time and winds of diseases.
I want to watch myself waste away, toes first.
I want to feel the cold of dying, spread like vitiligo, from my legs upwards. Painting my body in the dark colour of mortality.
I want to watch my whole flesh become a sad lump of agony.
I want to feel my cells die, one after the other. Each failed organ collapsing on another, like dominoes of death.
I want all my strength to wane. Fading gradually like the flame from a lighter running out of gas.
I want the candle of my body to melt in the heat of my fever, leaving a puddle of foul-smelling memories soaking the bed of life.
I want to helplessly writhe, like a worm, on the pine-needles of pain jabbing my body.
I want to run my fingers on my skin, like a braille board, feeling and reading the different aches.
I want all my flesh to be gnawed and eaten out, so that the tent of my skin tightly falls on the frame of my bones.
I want my hairs to fall as does the red, blinking lights on my monitoring chart.
I want to feel the smell of death creeping from my subconscious, like meningeal worms in the brain of a sheep.
I want the gray wad of cotton that’s my brain, soaked through with pain.
I want my life to be reduced into a statistic and my name into numeric…
I want the doctors to label my pain with a proper noun.
I want the length and breadth of my entire existence to be capsuled between the l and a of Lymphoma.
Then, I want to be carried, placed on the concrete of a forgotten grave in a deserted cemetery.
Light me a cigarette and leave me there.
I want to die of Cancer, on a Blue Thursday. In December.