It felt as though I had been sitting in the car for hours. My eyes fell to my wrist-watch and registered that fifteen minutes had passed since I’d left her side. Only fifteen minutes. It felt like it had been hours since she’d planted a cool kiss on my shoulder. Days since she’d driven a soft palm into my rear. Weeks since I’d felt the sweet moisture of her inside. Years since she’d whispered my name sweetly into my ear. Decades since I’d stood outside on a doorstep contemplating whether or not to knock on the door. The more I thought of it–and that, I did, over and over and over…–the further it travelled from my present life. I knew my mind was doing it on purpose. To protect me from the gruesome truth that acknowledging that I had just cheated on my wife would become to me. No. It was decades ago. Not today.”Daddy!”
A small dreadlocked head popped into the rear-view mirror and beamed at me happily. It was my seven-year-old daughter. How long had she been sitting there? I looked around the school parking lot and wondered when it had been invaded by the little children that were now running and screaming into parked vehicles.
“Can we go for ice-cream?” The gap-toothed mouth in the rear-view mirror was shouting.
“Ok,” I said, absent-mindedly.
I could not stop thinking about the girl that I had left at the hotel room. How sweet it had been to make love to her. How lovely it had been to kiss a mouth that had never uttered a foul word to me. How warm the arms of a woman that never pushed me away felt. I didn’t want to admit it to myself but I had missed it. The lunch-time slips from the world into the embrace of love behind dense hotel curtains. The soft pillow of newly-developed bosoms. The sweet moans of newly-discovered pleasure. I had missed it all.
Driving out of the school yard I suddenly realised that my daughter was saying something. I cleared my throat and asked,
“O a reng?”
“Daddy…” the face appeared next to my shoulder and scowled.
“You are not listening to me?”
I glanced at it briefly then turned my head back to the traffic before me and said,
“Yes, I am, nnana. Just repeat yourself. I’m not sure if I heard you correctly.”
I felt her fling herself into the back-seat. Through the rear-view mirror I saw her recline into her seat and stare sadly out of the window and then, through quivering lips, she announced,
“You always say that when you aren’t listening.”
I remained silent for some time. My daughter had gotten good at registering when my mind was elsewhere. An ability that my wife seemed to have suddenly lost. Making a right at an intersection, I found myself sighing out loud. I struggled to keep my mind fixed on the present. My thoughts sped between the memory of the girl I had left in the hotel room and the girl in the back-seat. At a red traffic light, I let my arms float to my lap. What have I done? With this question –the question I had avoided asking myself since I’d begun to slowly dress myself in the presence of the teenage girl I’d left behind– a flood of memories returned. My eyes rested on the plump little girl, through the rear-view mirror. This girl whose hands were now folded in a way her mother’s always seemed to be, had not always been plump.
At one point she had been a frail four year old girl lying in a hospital bed with no appetite for even the ice-cream she now longed for. And the day her doctors had revealed that they doubted she would make it through her fifth night in hospital I had wandered through the corridors of the hospital in a trance.
At one moment I had even felt myself to be standing still as the hospital walls rushed past me in the fast, white blur. The sensation of pain seeming so far away. As far as the painful howls of my wife begging some god for mercy, but just like these the pain seeped into the center of me and seized my heart momentarily only to disappear into the space around me. I was a father whose life was falling apart around him. But I could not bear the pain that this realisation brought me. I refused it. I rejected it like I’d been rejecting all feeling deep within me for years. I could not bear to feel weak. Even on that day when my world felt to be disappearing around me I could only roam about the hospital like the soulless being it seemed I’d always longed to be. But even then I had known that my life would change forever. I just didn’t imagine that it would be like this.
The sound of car-horns pulled me sharply out of my reverie. I looked around as drivers drove passed me, their faces glaring in my direction. Some of the faces were angry and others simply curious.
“Daddy! You forgot that green means go!”
I didn’t have time to wonder how long I’d been parked at a green traffic light for. Stepping on the accelerator I turned right towards home. And then my daughter said five words that sent my world spinning.
“Daddy, I think I’m sick.”
She let out a soft cough. That’s all it took for my infidelity to sink in. My mind could no longer protect me from the fact that I had cheated on my wife today, after two years of keeping up my end of the bargain. And now that consequences of my actions stared at me through my rearview mirror.
And I knew then that my daughter was going to die.