Flicker of Life-By Edward Maroncha

NB: Because of certain transitions that might interfere with our proper functioning tomorrow, we will do this today. Another Thursday Special.

“I have some weird pain in my chest,” Nancy says to her husband Philip, while looking at the television. She is watching her favourite soap opera. Philip looks up from the newspaper he is reading. His wife does not complain of sickness often, and she handles minor pains and aches well. But this is the third time she is mentioning the chest pain. Nancy has just finished preparing dinner and their two children, 18 year old Salome and 8 year old George are setting the table. By village standards, they are affluent. They live in a spacious brick house sitting on the three acre piece of land that Phillip inherited from his father. The homestead is surrounded by a live fence with a black, metallic gate at the entrance.

“You should go to the clinic tomorrow. I will drop you as I go to school,” Philip replies.

“No, it’s okay. I will go later in the day,” Nancy insists.

Philip gives her a concerned look. Just then, Salome calls them to the table. George gives thanks for the food and they all settle down to eat.

Philip wakes up the following morning to find his son watching cartoons. He glances at the dining table: everybody has had breakfast.

“Morning dad,” George says without looking at him.

“Morning. Where is your mother?”

“She went with Salome to see grandma. Aunt Kathomi called to say she is unwell.”

Philip makes a mental note to go see his mother after his board meeting today. Diabetes has been causing her problems for a while now, and she has been hospitalized twice in the last one year. He settles on the dining table to have breakfast. He pours tea from the large red thermos flask into a cup, adds sugar and stirs.He then picks three slices of bread from the half a loaf that is still on the table and slowly applies margarine.

When he is done with breakfast, Phillip takes a shower, dresses and gets into the family car, a white Toyota Premio.

“Tell your mother I will not be back for lunch,” he tells his son, as the boy opens the gate for him.

Philip is a headmaster at the local secondary school, Kianjururi Mixed Secondary School. Although schools are on vacation, the School Board is meeting today to discuss the proposal of acquiring a posho mill for the school. The meeting is scheduled to start at 10.30am, in Philip’s office. Philip’s secretary, Kanyua, serves them tea at 10. She is a lady of about 28 years, but with a fashion sense she must have genetically inherited from one of her more unfortunate ancestors. Today she is wearing a long, purple skirt with pleats, an orange top and a brown jacket. She is also wearing black “Ngoma” sneakers.  The overgrowth on her plaited hair suggests that she last went to a salon just before Jomo Kenyatta died.  But she is a kind and pleasant soul who happens to be very efficient in executing her duties. Presently, she takes away the tray and cups and closes the door softly behind her.

The local parish minister prays and the meeting begins. The school is sponsored by the Presbyterian Church and therefore the clergy man sits on the Board. Then the Chairman, a lawyer based in the nearby town, starts the meeting by thanking everyone for coming. He then invites Philip, as the Secretary to the Board, to read the minutes of the previous meeting. They go through the ritual without a hitch, and the Chairman, Lawrence Kathurima, introduces the agenda of the day.

Simon, a local businessman who owns a couple of butcheries, a number of rental houses and a hardware at the local town, is the first to speak. Philip does not like him, but he ensures he carefully conceals his feelings. Simon is a short man, with a bulging stomach. He is arrogant and speaks in a condescending tone to everyone in the Board, except the Chairman. Perhaps because Lawrence is a connected power broker with close links to the governor and other top politicians in the County.

As Simon droned on and on about why the posho mill was important, Philip’s phone vibrates. It is Salome. He terminates the call. But then she calls again. He terminates again and sends her a text message, asking her to call him later.

Mother has been taken to hospital. She is very sick. Salome replies. Philip thought it was his mother, Salome’s grandmother, who they had gone to see in the morning.

Ok. Tell your mother I will be there immediately after the meeting.

Mum is hospitalized dad!

Mum. Suddenly it hits him. She was talking about her mother, his wife.

“I have to go” he says suddenly. Everyone turns to looks at him.

“I am talking Bwana Principal…” Simon starts.

“My wife has been rushed to hospital,” Philip cuts him short.

“Are you a doc…”

“Shut up Simon. Philip is talking about his wife here,” Priscilla snaps. She is the PTA chairlady, and by virtue of that office a member of the School Board.

“Ok ladies and gentlemen. We will post pone the meeting until next week to allow Philip to go see to his wife,” Lawrence says.

The Parish Minister prays but Philip doesn’t hear a thing.

“Please lock the office,” he yells at his secretary as he run to his car.

He finds his two sisters at the hospital, together with Salome. The girl is sobbing, clinging to one of her aunts.

“What’s going on?” he asks nobody in particular.

“She just collapsed while talking to mother,” his sister Kathomi replies, “They are doing tests to see what is up with her.”

A youthful female doctor walks to where they are, followed by a male nurse. Her hands are in the pockets of her white coat, and her stethoscope is hanging loosely on her neck. Her face is expressionless, but her spectacles make her look rather somber.

“She has a lung infection that has damaged quite a bit of her lungs. But she is in a stable condition now, she should be fine.”

Should. That is the word Philip hears. What is going on? His wife was perfectly okay in the morning.

“Can I see her, doctor?”

“Sure,” There is her hint of kindness in the doctor’s otherwise very professional eyes.

Philip steps into the hospital’s private ward, where Nancy is. She is asleep, with tubes running into her nostrils and a saline drip attached to her right hand. In that instant, he knows he loves her. He cannot not afford to lose her.  He thinks about their marriage. They have had a pretty ordinary union, and have stayed quite happily for twenty years now.  They met at his cousin’s wedding, and had been paired in the bridal party. She was very talkative and kept him engaged the whole time. One thing led to another and they got married two years later. Ironically, his cousin kicked out his wife two years ago and is now living with a way younger woman.

But the more Philip had lived with Nancy, the more their lives became intertwined, and he now cannot not fathom life without her. He walks to where she lay and stroked her left hand. They are not those romantic couples that hold hands in public parks and kiss in public. No. As a matter of fact, they do not even do that in their sitting room. Their physical displays of affection are restricted to their bedroom. But their conversations are affectionate and they often throw friendly barbs at each other. It is quite obvious they enjoy each other’s company.

But now she is fighting for her life. Things have happened too fast for Philip’s mind to process. Yesterday she was just okay. They talked for a while in bed before he fell asleep. He always fell asleep first, unless he for some reason got to bed after her. Yet she always woke up before him. Sleepy doll, she had called him during the earlier days of their marriage.

“I will stay with her,” he tells the doctor. “Please tell my sisters to take the girl home.”

The doctor shrugs and leaves. Nancy’s situation deteriorates over the following days. Salome cries every time she visits. George withdraws to himself, and moves around silently like a zombie. Every day Philip feels himself dying with his wife. He loses appetite and taste for life. All that matters now is Nancy. And she is dying. The women from the Women’s Guild where Nancy was a member come often to visit and pray. Philip knows they mean well, but he has come to loathe their visits. He doesn’t want to engage in small talk. He does not want to be comforted. He just wants to be left alone with his wife.

But then, almost suddenly, she starts recovering. One morning she opens her eyes and attempts a weak smile. But she is too weak and falls asleep soon after. But two weeks later, she is discharged. Even the doctors are puzzled by her quick recovery, almost the same way her ailment had shocked everyone. It all seems like some bizarre dream. A dream that took about a month.

****                    *****                         ****                      ****                      *****                           ****

Nancy snuggles closer to Philip and whispers into his ear:

“Sleepy doll, life is a flicker. Today we are here, tomorrow maybe, maybe not. So today is the golden opportunity to do good. To spread love to all around us. To accomplish what we have been called upon to do.”

Philip feels a lump in his throat. Those words mean a lot to him now. They need neither introduction nor emphasis. He holds Nancy in a tight embrace, determined to let her fall asleep first for the first time in their married life.





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