“Ten”, he said in almost a whisper.
It was the tenth drop from the drip which he followed with his eyes till it reached the intravenous tube on his wrist. He knew that even though it was a private hospital and that day and night he was guarded and attended to by men and women whose loyalty he would vouch for with his life ( if he had any) , the word was out. He had “ it”. He was going to die.
His mind was very alert but his body, frail and weak battled to keep him alive as days blended into weeks. He feared sleep. He fought it bravely. The enemy might come and take him away while he was sleeping, he thought.
Two tubes ran from his nose to the oxygen pump on the wall, another ran from his right wrist to the drip which hung loosely on the stand. Another peg-like thing clipped his left thumb and its code ran to an electric machine. The last tube ran from inside his penis to the catheter which lay between his ajar legs.
In this position, he thought, even a fly could torment him. The stench from the blankets and sheets filled the room. It was a mixture of the smells of urine, the feaces and the blood which oozed ceaselessly from his bedsores. Echoes and calls of death tormented him through the beeps of the EKG, ticks of the clock, vibrations of the Bp machine and blows from the oxygen tank.
At this moment he remembered that he had a wife. She was asleep. Suddenly he felt sorry for her, then angry at her. Sorry that he had infected her and she too was going to die. Angry that the money and property which he was soon leaving behind was going to be squandered by her and her lover.
“Bitch,” he cursed between his teeth.
The curse evoked a cough. A long violent cough which raised his chest about forty centimeters from the bed. His wife sprang from the couch on which she was sleeping and in her half-sleep she muttered,
He could not answer. He continued to cough. He could see that his wife’s actions were rather out of habit than out of care or concern.
The wife alerted the guard on the door to call the nurse, then busied herself on the mirror. She began washing, rubbing, painting and polishing her face. The coughing of the man had grown to sound like the neighing of a donkey….but she did not seem to mind.
In no time the nurse dashed into the room and the latex she was halfway putting on popped and its pieces scattered on the floor. She raised the man’s head by gently putting more pillows under it and the cough ceased. The man’s eyes thanked the nurse and in return she gave a half smile.
The wife had taken it upon herself to arrange and rearrange foodstuffs on the table. Boxes of porridge, packets of chips, boxes and bottles of juices and fruits where placed and misplaced. Although his wife was in the room, the man felt lonely. He was shivering. He felt death’s presence in the room. This was not how he had wanted to die, at least not in a hospital and definitely not in this humiliating state.
“Mary,” he finally managed to call her.
“Shewe,” she said absent mindedly and she did not turn.
He felt sick. Hesitantly the wife walked as if each step costs her money. Standing over her husband’s death bed she looked at him.
“Mike,” she said with a feigned emotion.
He could not answer. Tears ran from his eyes and collected in his ears. He wanted to shout that he was afraid and did not want to die, but he didn’t. He was a man.
Mary’s eyes mocked him. Her half smile betrayed her pretense. Her hesitation showed her anticipation. Of what , he asked himself silently…. My death, came the answer.