The third story in our fiction Tuesday series is on illness, grief and coping with it all.
THE BEAUTIFUL SOUL THAT HEAVEN HAS TO RETURN
I remember the day my wife left me. She grew tired of me in the way that aging spouses grow tired of each other. A spouse suddenly realizes after fifty years of marriage that their wife or husband sleeps with their mouth open. She packed her bags and eloped with a young man whose sweet words and tender touches made her feel young again. This is what I like to tell myself because the truth is unbearable.
One day she felt a lump in her breasts and without wasting time went to see her doctor.
“Well, I have breast cancer. I have about four months to live at best,” she said. “All the same, let us make the most of it.” As soon as she had finished talking, tears gushed down her cheeks as if she had held them back for a long time and couldn’t hold them any longer.
There was no trace of courage in her voice. In some way, I was happy that she had forgotten the absurdity of pretense. Adults pretend about their feelings far too much. We are fine, when we are in fact falling apart inside. We are glad that you are here, when in fact your presence disgusts us.
Though the cancer was discovered at an advanced stage, and surgery would do little to counteract the damage it had caused, she chose to have surgery done. In the days that followed the surgery she became expressionless; not once did she smile or laugh. Now that I think about it, in those days, she didn’t cry either, not even once. Our kisses became infrequent and passionless. She didn’t undress in front of me again. Before going to bed, she put on more and more clothes, burying her skin underneath them.
It was a Saturday morning when she died. After threatening to rain for many weeks, it had finally rained. The fresh scent of wet soil hung in the air. In the valley behind our house, the frogs were croaking creating a peculiar melody, and though I could not see the river I could tell from its roaring sound that it was bursting at the seams. Our rondavel was some distance away from the village and it rested on the land sloping into the valley. Five weeks ago, she and I had planted the garden in silence and contempt. The crops never grew. With that Saturday rain, I was thinking of planting them again. It was three months after her visit to the doctor. She had a month left. She had given me a hug that morning. I felt her entire weight on me. It was one of the few times we had touched after the surgery and also the last time. I would think of it later as her way of saying goodbye.
That Saturday morning, I was tending the garden when I heard the sound of glass breaking. I found her lying on the kitchen floor. I realized then that her body had shrunk to the size of a little girl. It was as if the full figured woman she once was had long left earth.
By the kitchen door, hangs the only photo of her. It was taken on our 50th anniversary. In it she maintains her gracious smile. The photo is old and is beginning to tear on the edges, but her smile still appears to summarize all her happy memories.
Looking at the photo and the twigs that are growing on her grave, I comfort myself with the thought that the young man she left me for will find a woman his own age and she will return to me. Even though I am heartbroken, I will take her back.
I am aware that there is no logic in my thinking but logic sinks me into an abyss I can only emerge from dead. I do not want to grieve for her because she left me and someday she is coming back.