Date released:
September 9, 2021
October 2, 2021
Short story
Photo credit:
Mathew Macquarrie

Death walks around the clock

Death is an arbitrary constant, lurching around, causing a disgruntled pause in a man’s existence. Death, one who has his fingers switched between total life and lifelessness, flipping through a moment of laughter to a moment of shattered hearts, a moment of hope to a moment of destroyed expectations.

On a cold Saturday morning, I and death were in the same building, in the same room—Lautech Teaching Hospital. It happened that I got to the hospital before death, as I had to accompany my younger sister to bring her sick friend to the hospital the night before. Who knows, death could have been at the hospital, watching me wallop into A&E, planning to give me an incidence to write about.

I and death have been in contact on a few occasions. Death knew my family before I could meet them. He had snatched my mother's prized possession—children—before she could wrap me in her warm embrace and hold my little hand in hers.

Death was present at my supposed elder sister’s naming ceremony. They were happy it was their first after few miscarriages; only mother knows the figure. After the pastor had named her Omolabake Valentine, death snatched her, with her head cocked to one side on my father’s arms. As father realized he was carrying a lifeless baby, a bolt of panic hit him, but he was able to remain calm till the end of the ceremony to break the news to mother. My mother broke into tears as she realized she had to leave her baby to the hands of cold soil and total darkness instead of her warm, cosy arms and tender breasts. After that incidence, death tacked an "I am coming back" note on the door of my parent's hearts, keen to stay with them for as long as he wishes. My parents lost another child—a son—a week after he was named and eight miscarriages in total before I was born.  

On the day of my birth, death was waiting for me. As I stepped out of my mother’s womb, it waited at home, patiently, planning to help me frog-kick my way back to heaven. But, I am sure disappointment sifted down on death like ash as karma instructed him to kill our landlord’s son instead. So, as I was taken into my new home, Baba Landlord's little boy’s corpse was carried out, accompanied by wails of his relatives and sighs of passersby. My mother would explain to me later that the landlord tried to poison her while she carried me in the belly.

That night, it was my second night having to sleepover in the same hospital. The first happened when my sister was admitted for reasons she’d like for me not to share.

No sooner than we got to the hospital, it began to rain. It rained so heavy that waters from the downfall began to trickle into the emergency unit from the windows and poorly fixed doors, which the university students also vandalized during a riot in the hospital. Likewise, we began to hear a plink as a result of the leaky roof. The rain was heavily associated with a cold weather, that I began to shiver. As I sat in the chair, placing my head on an empty bed beside the one the sick girl laid in, my back washed with the hum of different voices in the hospital. A little child was wailing from a distance, a young man who had intestinal issues groaning in pain, guardians chit-chatting and nurses moving to and fro, conversing.

The morning death had his chance, my teeth were already chattering and I needed warmth so much that I asked my sister to bring my cardigan when she left for the hostel exactly at 5 am—she couldn't stand the mosquito bites and the cold night. When the man that would later die got to the hospital, he was assisted by the nurses. They had to put him on a bed and push him into the emergency unit. I tilted my head to the right as I heard noise from the entrance, a noise accompanying the man’s entry into the unit.

The to and fro movement in the unit increased as the man had to be given oxygen and quick treatment. Suddenly he began to shout repeatedly, “e wá mú mi” Yoruba words, meaning come and take me in English. It felt as if death and his cohorts gathered around his bed, keen on taking his life. With my attention totally in his direction, I developed the accuracy of a mind sharpened by fear. I began to fidget in my seat, hoping something positive would happen.  

I wasn't conscious of the time, but silence filled the room a few minutes after the doctors in charge left his bedside. While I was almost jumping for joy that nothing spiralled out of control, a doctor who would turn to become a friend of mine told me the man had died. Death stole him away no sooner than his lips kissed the world of silence. It was like the façade covering his cranky looking face had been removed. My eyes were widened with alarm when I heard he had given up the ghost.

My sister and I would later take a walk outside to avoid our eyes beholding his wrapped body and death’s victory. The dead body was about to be carried into a taxi, and we couldn’t take our eyes off as we stood in pity, with our arms akimbo, heads moving left and right at intervals, and having short conversations about things I cannot remember now.

I remember a woman in a long sky blue hijab trying to have a conversation with us about the incident. It was visible that we were drowned in terror.

Death walks around like the hands of a working clock, measuring and stopping time; different yardsticks for different people.

I died before all these could happen, with time slowing to an agonizing crawl and my eyes glittering and sparkling with tears and disdain for that moment. That time, death didn't kill me; my circumstance did. My lover did, as he said he would like to move on from the beautiful havoc we have caused.

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