I was in a hospital bed. A short nurse’s head was floating between the slightly ajar door and it’s frame. She said,
“Are you awake?”
My attempt to speak quickly turned into a discovery of how dry my throat was and I soon decided to remain quiet. The pale light that formed a sharp shadowy outline of her head on the linoleum beneath her did not make it far enough into the room to make my head-nodding exist. Soon she shut the door and I heard her shoes squeak down the corridor and turn a corner into silence.
Alone and awake I began to wonder if she even cared if I was up. Surely, switching the lights on in this dreadful room could have answered her question? I accepted that she didn’t care. I automatically prepared myself for one of my self-righteous tirades about the state of medical care in some of these “private hospitals” I was interrupted by a cruel realisation.
My daughter’s name came to me like a ghost in the night and I immediately burst into tears. Remembering that I wouldn’t have her any longer, I felt the world around me darken. I had not sobbed so freely since the death of my own mother in my teens. A great relief soared through my body and I found myself wondering why I didn’t do this often enough. Why I didn’t allow myself to feel.
But I didn’t have much time to question my psychological make-up because the image of my baby’s frail body wasting away beneath the hospital sheets attached itself permanently to my screwed-shut eyes. The pain was so great it forced my back off the bed like a propellor and I found myself shivering uncontrollably. Reality came to me once more. And with it the realisation that I would spend the rest of my life without my little gem. At that moment I could not breathe. I refused to. If she was to die I was sure I would too. I collapsed back into the bed and willed God to take me. I lay there lifelessly for a long time silenced by my genuine belief that I would be dead in only a few minutes. As the world became dimmer and quieter I was sure it was happening. I was dying. The corners of my mouth turned up into a tired smile as the last of my energy slowly drained itself from my body.
“Look at you.”
My eyes shot open as I registered what I could only make out to be a whisper of disgust.
“Even in what you think to be the last hours of your life all you can think of is yourself?”
I turned my head from side to side, willing my eyes to pierce through the darkness of my surroundings and locate the source of that voice. I couldnt. This voice was too weak. Could it be God? Suddenly I found my own voice in the dry patch that my throat had become and whispered out loud,
“Modimo? Is that you?”
A hoarse laugh cracked through the air. It was not one of kind amusement. I felt chills run down my spine.
“God? You think you’re worthy of an audience with God?” it cackled. “You don’t deserve shit. And anyway, what do you know of God? You don’t know enough about God to know he doesn’t live in the panties of university students!”
Another laugh cracked through the air like thunder. I felt all the warmth from my body disappear into the night air. The room had become icy. The voice continued,
“And on the night your daughter is to die all you can do is cry in that bed like the baby you are. Useless. What did Gwen ever see in you?”
I felt an anger bubbling up within me and blurted,
“What do you know about my wife?”
“Shut up,” it spat. “Everyone knows about your wife. This poor woman that you drag through countless affairs like she’s an old pair of shoes. Ha! You don’t care about her. All you care about is yourself, John.”
I fell quiet. Allowing the heaviness of the truth to seep into me, I quickly accepted that I had no choice but to listen to this voice. I don’t know why, but somehow I knew this voice belonged to someone –something?—with great power.
“You don’t know how lucky you are to have that woman in your life. But it looks like you can only shed tears for your daughter. The same daughter that was carried for ten months by Gwen. The same daughter whose ailing body Gwen tended to for weeks before you could pull your face out from between some young girl’s thighs long enough to notice. That same daughter—“
At that point a loud wail escaped from me and shot into the night air. I could not stand to hear it anymore –the truth cut into me with the cold precision of a hunter’s spear. It seemed the owner of this voice knew more about my life than I did.
I didn’t have time to wonder how it knew all this nor did I have time to wonder at exactly what moment tears began to stream down my face and pool onto the blanket below. All I could do was imagine the pain that awaited me out of confines of this surreal hospital room in which I could still try to convince myself that this was all a dream.
“What do you want from me?”
The room was suddenly silent. Where had the voice gone? Maybe it was a dream. But it couldn’t be. The sheets clung to my body, gripping to the layer of sweat that had developed on my skin. My breath was loud and raspy in the silence of the cold room. I repeated,
“What do you want from me?”
“Shut up,” it screeched. “I don’t want anything from you. This is not about you. This is about the people in your life that you have dragged through all this suffering. This is for them. This is for Gwen. So I’ll cut a deal with you. I’ll answer the prayers your wife has been wailing at a non-existent god for years. But it’s all up to you. I’ll bring your daughter back to life. No—you’ll bring your daughter back to life. All you have to do is promise not to set eyes on another woman again.”
“Yes,” I whispered without even thinking. For what was there to think of? The soft embraces of young lovers could not compare to having my daughter back. So right there and then I agreed to the bargain. All I had to do was agree to this one condition. And I did. I agreed to the terms that this voice laid out for me. I was powerless. The insensitive man I’d been all along had to go. I had to give up the life of a playboy. It was my only choice. I had to agree.
I had to save my daughter.
It had been two years since I’d made this deal. When I woke up the next day to my warm bed at home I still wasn’t sure whether the whole night had been real or not. I spent months trying to figure out if my daughter had ever been sick. But even then I couldn’t test it. I was petrified. Every glance from an attractive young woman brought up images of my daughter dying in that hospital bed. I just couldn’t do it.
But now I knew for sure. The afternoon with that beautiful girl in that cheap motel was cruel a reminder of the bargain I’d made on that cold, unreal night. But how could it be unreal? I struggled to believe the voice in my head that told me that my daughter’s illness starting on the day I’d stolen a night with my young lover could be a coincidence. How could it be?
To be continued…