MY PENSIVE LINES
I am not yet dead, but I still bleed and weep from the pains of life’s whip. Time took me far and left me behind. There were days when life made me hate roses, when sighs became my food and thoughts banished my rest. Days existed, when my miseries weighed more than the sands of the sea. I have felt sunshine and I have felt rain, I conquered storms but the scars have remained.
When will this twilight end? When will the light of a new dawn pierce this lame darkness? When will this darkness, disappear and let me see a new morning? I have learnt to hate life for all the troubles that living brings. Life is not steady; it sways, like a candle in the wind. Mine is a tortured life, mine is a tattered life. My mind is confused and blurred, and my memory has grown dim, like expiring stars at the wake of dawn but I have not forgotten that terrible tale of my youth.
It was that year when the price of a bottle of Sprite instantly rose from N5 to N25. It was that year, when examination questions were secretly sold to students before the exams. It was that year, when many lazy students sneaked their way through universities and purchased certificates they could not defend. It was the March of 1988, the month and year I met Sarah.
Ours was a meeting borne by a strange fate. How can I ever forget that Saturday afternoon that twisted my tales and altered the flow of my history. I still remember how I stood in front of the school library, leafing through the pages of the Norton Anthology of English Literature. It was raining. The rain was drumming hard on the firm roof of the library. It was the first rain in March after the Harmattan and the sweet scent of dry dust rent the air. I was still at the early pages of William Shakespeare’s king Lear when I heard a scream in the distance, under the falling needles of rain. The soil was wet and slippery and I still remember that first sight I caught of her inside that brown pond as she fell.
My mind is blank, like the naked skull of a dead vulture, but I have not forgotten that first time our eyes met; that strange feeling that raced through my veins. That feeling that altered something in the air. She was lithe and tall and her long black hairs were as dark as a moonless Harmattan night. Her face radiated with brilliance and beauty. The long white gown she wore was already anointed with the mud she fell into. Of course I’ve not forgotten how I rushed, on hearing her scream, helped her up and later drove her home in my car, after she had borrowed the books she came for. That was all, that was how that incident carved our fate.
We got glued to each other and she visited me more often. We gradually hatched an unusual fondness for each other. I felt always complete in her presence and missed her each time she slept. We walked into each other’s dream every night and often dreamt of growing old together. There was that strong invisible bond that bound us together like steel.
I have not forgotten that night, that night I proposed to her amidst silent squints and knowing nods and the bright smile she flashed as she said “yes” to my request. We both thought it was the beginning of forever, not knowing that forever itself does not last forever.
Although I try hard to forget, I still remember that day; it was fourteen days to our wedding; a day we had both yearned for; a day we wanted to lock ourselves up in a world of our own; a day we planned to seal our love with the strong matrimonial glue; a day we wanted begin our new story on earth, but that dream was almost dead at birth. The result of the HIV test we carried out said that she was positive, a sinister news that left a cloud on my brow. She wept all day and night, defying all my attempts to dry her weeping eyes. I was the one consoling her but I also felt the pain… I was moved to a state beyond tears. There were many questions lurking in my head but my love for her was defiant. I made up my mind to go on with the marriage arrangement despite her health condition. I could not stand the thought of watching the love we bred together, vanish into the endless unseen like morning dews in blazing sun.
I have not forgotten that day I gathered enough courage to go and get the result of my own HIV test in the same hospital. That was three days before our wedding. Apart from my heart which suddenly began to beat faster, every other thing was calm as I drove into the Holy Cross Hospital, Enugu. The world was silent. The only sound I heard was that which came from the argument going on among my confused thoughts.
My frightened feet wobbled their way through the long passage that ran into Dr. Mike’s office. The air in the hospital suddenly became hot and began to assume a more sinister posture as my trembling hands made to turn the door knob. Fear occupied a vast part of the air I breathed. My heart missed a beat if not two and I began to sweat profusely.
With a wide grin, Dr. Mike gestured me to a seat. I sank into it and we exchanged some pleasantries, casting our thoughts back to our good old days, when time was young. The reminiscences hovered around our days in the University. While the chit-chat was still on, Mike presented the result of the HIV test to me… and I felt a sudden shiver that sent a quiver racing through my veins. I was sure I had a carnal knowledge of Sarah before the test… but the result of the test said I was Negative. I could not believe it. Was Mike afraid of telling me the truth? Was he hiding the truth because of our friendship? Was he not the same doctor who carried out Sarah’s test and confirmed her positive? I started hatching several doubts in my mind; I doubted the result, I doubted Mike, I doubted myself and I doubted my doubts.
I was still flapping into the vast lake of my confusion when a young lady in a volcanic mood breezed into the office. Her voice soared high as she demanded a million explanations from Mike. She complained bitterly as she narrated her problems. She had come for a HIV test two months before in that hospital and was certified Negative but the result was burnt in a fire outbreak and, coming back to the nurses for the same result to be reproduced, she was handed another result which, contrary to the one she was given before, labeled her HIV positive.
The name of the aggrieved lady was “Sara Okoye” while my fiancée’s was “Sarah Okoye” and this sharpened my interest in the case. Her first name was just a letter less than my fiancée’s. I joined Mike as he dug through the idle heap of files in his office in search of the young lady’s file. When we finally met the file, something became clear to all of us, the enraged girl was formerly given a wrong certificate, and that was not all… the result given to her was my fiancée’s... Sarah wasn’t actually HIV positive. The doctors were wrong, the results were misplaced.
I was instantly gripped by a strange mirth; an unusual joy; a joy sweeter than madness. Jumping into the car I made my way home to break that news of the century to Sarah whose eyes were already swollen with tears. The car sped well but I wanted more, I wanted to fly… fly to her with the swiftness of the wind, hold her trembling hands, dry her weeping eyes and tell her that they were wrong… that the doctors were wrong, that the world was wrong and we were right. The joy in my heart sent cold tears racing down my cheeks and I felt their salty taste as they crept into my mouth.
Night was gathering her garbs and the reddening desert sun was already hiding and peeping through the fingers of tall trees in the west when I stepped out of the car. The gate was ajar when I drove into their compound which was dotted by a well trimmed hedge of Rose flowers.
Stepping into the living room, the CD was playing one of Sarah’s favorite songs, with the volume turned to the maximum. It was Lucky Dube’s “Behind the mask of the clown…” The ceiling fan was also swishing through the air. I heard a sound in the kitchen and, moving closer, I gave the kitchen door a gentle push and it yawned open, but Sarah wasn’t there. It was then that I realized that the sound was actually coming from the shower in the bathroom. I moved closer to the door and called out to her but there was no response.
I dropped the bottle of Hennessey I bought on my way home for the celebration of the news and swung the door open, but she wasn’t there. The water still poured through the shower but there was no trace of Sarah. As I stepped closer, something happened… my wounds rejoiced again as I saw her smiling. She was inside the bath tub which lay at the far end of the bathroom. She was clad in her wedding dress and kept smiling a gentle distracted smile. A mischievous and sly smile perpetually lingered on her lips.
My gaze suddenly shifted from her to what seemed like stain on the floor and next to the stain was a bloody knife. It was then that I discovered the blood stains on her wedding dress. I called and she did not answer but kept flashing that vacant smile. Moving closer to the tub, I saw that the veins of her left wrist were all slit… she was dead.
For a moment, my heart ceased a beat and I was moved to state beyond tears. In her palm was a rumpled and blood stained piece of paper which I unfolded and it read “Charles, mine is the cruel hand that has hurled your honest love into this pit I call my life, I have gone to engrave our names on a plaque of gold, where neither wind nor rain can erase them…if our paths ever cross again, don’t forget to remember these wrinkles fate carved on my face, these garlands of guilt, I love you. Sarah”.
Tears humidified my brow and the wind was wet with my tears as I came back into the living room. The cold silence in my heart was further punctured by the lyrics of the song that kept playing on the CD. Lucky Dube was still singing “behind the mask of the clown, there is a trail of tears”. Even the fan on the ceiling kept slicing the invisible air as if nothing happened.
Life cracks and sways, like a candle in the wind. I found love in the nest of my youth but evening was close. Evening arrived and hurried us from our joy. I have nothing left but these wrinkles, couching above my brow like the mad belly of an old river. Those were my hard days under this old and difficult sun… I am now an old man and my memory has grown dim. The rest of my story belongs to history.