The light is fading in the room and I stop reading my book to gaze outside the window. Another day and another sunset. This time the fusion of oranges, pinks and blues is worthy of an artist’s canvas. If only I could paint, I would immortalise this moment. Sadly I am no artist so my memory will have to suffice. A few moments and then dusk starts to fall on the world outside.
Despite the overhead lights, the room feels dim…rather miserable if you ask me. I reach over and switch on the light by the bed. It flickers momentarily then comes on. I look at the face resting on the pillow and the harsh glow of the artificial lights give him a greyish pallor and the tubes emerging from his mouth and nostrils obscure part of his face. He is barely recognisable with the purplish bruise around one eye and gash across his forehead.
His eyes are still closed. They have been closed for over a week now. After the car accident the doctors decided to put him in a medically induced coma. They told me that his head injury was severe and there was swelling in the brain. According to them, this was the best way to let his body try and heal although from what I can tell they think the chances of him regaining consciousness are slim.
It was disconcerting at first but over the last week or so I have become accustomed to the noises the various machines surrounding my husband constantly make. The rhythmic beeping from his heart monitor, the whirring of the ventilator—it’s all background noise.
I stand up and the book on my lap falls to the floor with a slight thud and slides under the bed. I can pick it up later. One of the nurses said that talking to him or reading out loud might help so I bring a book with me to the hospital.
My lower back and shoulders are aching from all the sitting but even with a bit of stretching and walking around the room, the pain remains obstinate. Give it time and your body turns on you and things you take for granted become herculean tasks. Everything starts clicking and creaking like an unoiled machine. Right now I feel more like a hundred and five than fifty five.
The hands on the clock above the door of the room are moving particularly slowly today. I think the clock is mocking me. Even the seconds seem to be moving in slow motion. “Ha ha ha, only six o’clock,” it says.
Two more hours and I can go back home.
Even after thirty five years I can hear my mother’s voice telling me that I had made my bed and must therefore lie in it. I was foolish, immature and oh so stupid to have been seduced by a few sweet words and a roguish smile. I have no one but myself to blame.
A fumbled encounter in the back seat of a car with a man who swept me off my feet gave me one of the best things in my life—my son. However, back then people didn’t look kindly on unwed mothers and I thought I was the luckiest girl alive when he said we should get married and be a family.
“No child should come into this world without having both parents”, he used to say.
My second son came soon after the first and I felt complete. I had everything I wanted.
Unfortunately time taught me that the man I had given my heart and soul to didn’t really love me. I just kept deluding myself into think that he did.
Well, two more hours and I can go back home. I can breathe. I feel like I have more than paid my dues by now.
At least the boys will be here soon. ‘Boys!’ I smile to myself. They stopped being that years ago. They’re grown men now with their own families, their own lives. Despite the fancy suits and manicured beards all I see are two little kids who used to show up from school with scraped knees and elbows and spend hours fighting imaginary dragons and monsters. How I miss them.
I can understand that it must be hard for them to take the time every day to come by the hospital but they do their best and visit even if it’s for a little while. Come seven-ish, they appear and take it in turns to sit with their father. We’re not all allowed to be in the room all at once. So I chat with one or the other in the waiting area. Sometimes about the weather, at times a little about their work. I ask for an update on the grandchildren whom I haven’t seen since before the accident. More often than not they ask me if I need anything for the house or if my back is giving me trouble and then they leave. It has become a little ritual we go through but it’s one that I look forward to.
At least the two of us seem to have done something right.
All of a sudden the machines start going mad. I see his large frame shaking uncontrollably and I shout for the nurse. They are already in the room, the beeping and screeching of the machines have them running to the bed.
Somebody gently pushes me out of the way and out of the room. They are yelling things at each other and I don’t know what they’re saying. I see the doctor and he enters the room without even looking at me. I’ve seen him around the ward. He has a nice bedside manner, at least nicer than the doctor who was here last weekend. This one reminds me of an aging cherub.
The door closes behind him and I can’t hear what’s happening inside anymore.
I sit down on the chair outside and put my head in my hands, they are trembling. My breath is fast and uneven. I am ashamed of the feeling that is bubbling inside me. Relief. Part of me feels a sense of relief. It rises from the depths of my being and threatens to engulf me.
I want to laugh out loud but I stop myself. After thirty five years I am about to be set free. We can finally both be at peace. He can be rid of the tubes and machines that keep him tied to this world and I can be rid of the chains that bind me to this life devoid of love, passion or even compassion.
I feel a hand on my shoulder and I look up to see one of the nurses standing next to me.
The nurse shakes her head and says they are doing their best. She asks me if I would like some water or a cup of tea. I realise that my throat is dry and nod to her. Water would be lovely. She tells me she will be back in a jiffy. “Jiffy” I wonder where the word even comes from.
I watch her as she hurries off, a pretty little thing with a trim figure and a head of almost jet black hair tied into a tight little bun at the nape of her neck. My husband would have approved. It appears that the same sweet words and roguish smile that I fell so hard for were bestowed on any passable looking female that crossed his path.
I have asked myself over and over again why I stayed and the answer has always been the same. Whatever he is, he has always been a good father. We both love the boys and however we might have felt about each other, we wanted to give them a stable home. I think we tolerated each other at best. Somewhere in my mind I felt I was doing the right thing by keeping the family together.
A long time ago I tried to tell him that I wanted to leave, that things weren’t working out. He didn’t shout at me or even raise his voice but he told me he would never let me take the children away from him. There was a coldness in him I had never seen before and it was frightening. No one in his family had been divorced and we were not going to be the first.
I think I convinced myself that somewhere deep down he still loved me and this was his way of getting me to stay. I knew it wasn’t true but I never brought it up again.
I became immune to the late nights and the smell of perfume on his shirts but it was the way he flaunted it that I found hard to swallow. That and the way he found pleasure in putting me down at every conceivable opportunity. I was his verbal punching bag.
He made sure he never said anything in front of the children. We had an image to maintain.
So I stayed for the sake of my sons and when they were older, I just accepted that this was my lot in life.
I have always looked with envy at couples walking past in the street holding hands, laughing with one another. I see them exchanging a quick embrace, a passionate kiss and I wonder how it must feel to be loved and cherished. Maybe now I can.
The nurse is back and she offers me a plastic cup filled to the brim with water. I spill some on my hand when I take it from her. The water is cold and refreshing and I gulp it down in one go.
The doctor comes out of the room and looks around. He sees me and I stand up, my legs feel wobbly. The verdict is about to be given.
He takes my hand and smiles at me.
“We’ve managed to stabilise your husband for the time being but we will have to monitor him closely for the next twenty four hours, I’m afraid he’s not out of the woods yet.”
I slump back in the chair and the tears start rolling down my cheeks. They think I am overcome with relief. The nurse kneels down next to me and strokes my back.
“There, there, it’s alright now”, she says in almost a whisper.
I wipe my face and stand up. The nurse offers to walk me to the room. Right now I just want to be alone.
There are two other nurses fixing the sheets on the bed so I wait by the door while they finish. They usher me in and smile at me as they leave. I try to smile back.
I walk towards the bed. He is lying there at the mercy of the machines around him, his face is obscured by the tubes.
I get down on the floor on all fours and look under the bed. The book has been kicked further under so I reach across and retrieve it. I hold the side of the bed and stand up. The chair has been moved to one side and I drag it back to his bedside.
I want him to open his eyes one more time and look at me, to see that I am still here. I want him to know that when he’s gone I’m going to be just fine. It’s a waiting game now and I have all the time in the world.
I sit down and make myself comfortable. It’s dark outside but the lights from the other buildings are twinkling. I open the book and find the page I was on and start reading silently. The boys should be here soon.
Nadia Kabir Barb is a long standing columnist for the Star Magazine (The Daily Star Newspaper, Bangladesh) with her column ‘Straight Talk’. A British Bangladeshi mother of three living in London, she draws inspiration from her multicultural background and her articles range from social and political issues to humorous and often irreverent observations of life in general.